GCSAR rescues another snowmobiler from Gravel Mountain
January 16, 2017
Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) was busy again this past weekend with another snowmobile rescue on Gravel Mountain near Grand Lake on Saturday, Jan. 14.
GCSAR Public Information Officer Greg Foley said the rider suffered a dislocated hip and was in a great amount of pain when GCSAR arrived. Foley said the snowmobiler appeared to be riding alone, though another rider was by his side when GCSAR arrived. Foley said the injured rider had been there for around two hours before GCSAR got to him.
Air Link Medical out of Loveland was able to land a helicopter at 11,300 feet and evacuate the rider. Foley said it would have taken several hours to ground-evacuate the man. GCSAR relies on helicopter transportation only if the situation calls for it, and in this case, the injured rider's core temperature was dropping significantly so the helicopter was necessary, according to Foley. GCSAR had to use ropes to lower the man down a 20-25 degree slope to a flatter surface in order to attend to him properly and wait for the air transportation. The terrain made the rescue slightly difficult because of avalanche debris in the area, according to Foley.
The rescue area was in avalanche terrain and GCSAR members arrived equipped with beacons, probes, and shovels. The injured rider did not have avalanche gear or proper equipment for an overnight stay, and was wearing several cotton-clothing items. Cotton is often referred to as the "death fabric" and is one of the worst materials for cold weather. Cotton keeps the body warm by trapping air near the skin. When cotton becomes wet from perspiration it will no longer insulate you, but will absorb your sweat like a sponge. In a sense, cotton tries to dry itself by using your body warmth, which can drastically lower your body temperature and cause disorientation, hypothermia, and potentially death. The GCSAR crew used a sleeping bag to warm the man, and was able to load him into the helicopter within 15-20 minutes of its arrival.
Foley said most victims that GCSAR responds to are not prepared for an unplanned overnight stay in an emergency situation. He stressed the importance of preparation, especially in backcountry travel. Foley said there is usually nothing that can be done to prevent accidents like striking a tree, but having proper gear in case of an emergency is something anyone can achieve. Foley said there have been four or five incidences this winter where victims have been stranded when the sun sets without any of the necessary gear for a cold winter night.
Foley said it is not unusual to see several rescues on Gravel Mountain each year because of the popularity of the trails in the area.
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Seven GCSAR responders were available to reach the injured snowmobiler. GCSAR fully relies on volunteers, and Foley said having that many rescuers available on a holiday weekend helped the situation. Foley said being a member of a search and rescue crew is tough for volunteers because most members have families they would like to be spending time with on weekends.