Rescuers save couple on Byers Peak

Courtesy of Grand County Search and Rescue
Courtesy of GCSAR
Staff Photo |

Grand County Search and Rescue responded to a 9-1-1 call from a local couple who had become lost while descending from the summit of Byers Peak on Sunday, Oct. 25, around 8 p.m. Besides being lost, the couple reported that they were cold, wet and frightened. More than 8 inches of snow blanketed the area and temps would be well below freezing Sunday night.

Nicholas (Nick) Sikonski and Rachel Kindsvalter, both of Grand County, had left the Byers Peak Trailhead at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday with the plan of climbing Byers Peak.

Efforts to contact the subjects were hampered by poor cell service at their location. It was determined that the subjects had traveled for 2 ½ or 3 hours after leaving the summit between 5 and 5:30 pm and that they had no survival gear. Due to the poor cell service their GPS location was unavailable even though Nick called 9-1-1. Several choppy phone calls and texts to the GCSAR interviewer indicated that the couple had probably dropped into the Kaiser Creek drainage. Nick’s cell phone had limited battery power remaining.

A Winter Park/Fraser Police officer responded to the Byers Peak trailhead in the Experimental Forest where the subject’s vehicle was parked, but the subjects could not hear or see the lights and siren blasts.

GCSAR mounted an immediate emergency response staging at the Byers Peak Trailhead. Seven team members and one canine were fielded in three teams. One team was assigned to follow the tracks of the subjects from the trailhead up the Byers Peak Trail while a second team deployed up the Bottle Pass Trail to search, confine the subjects and cut for track. The canine team worked to eliminate search areas on the St. Louis Creek side. Meanwhile, a Grand County Sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to the Lake Evelyn trailhead to display lights and siren and function as a radio relay between ground crews and the command staff.

Cell phone forensics and a military night vision/thermal imaging helicopter were requested from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC).

The last phone contact with Nick was at 11:30 p.m.

Near midnight the Bottle Pass team found the subjects’ footprints down in Kaiser Creek. Shortly after, the Byers Peak team found the point where the subjects left the trail on their descent and started heading northwest. Apparently, they followed some elk tracks instead of their own tracks. Both teams continued to track the subjects, ending up on a logging road headed for the Lake Evelyn Trailhead, where the deputy was parked.

Unfortunately, one switchback before the trailhead parking area, the subjects had left the logging road and headed into the forest. They had walked right past the trailhead. Continued tracking located the subjects about 1,000 yards from the trailhead and above the Kaiser Creek Road in thick timber where they had been since about 8:30 p.m.

Nick and Rachel were quite excited to first hear the whistles and callouts, and then see headlamps and rescuers where they were hunkered down with no shelter or fire. It was about 1:30 a.m. and now all that was left to do was provide some warm clothing, food and water and walk them over to the deputy’s vehicle; except that all the rescuers’ vehicles were 25 miles by road over in St. Louis Creek. After some logistics, all GCSAR personnel were headed home by 4:15 a.m. after a very interesting and successful mission.

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