Grand County Search & Rescue plucks injured climber from Indian Peaks glacier
August 16, 2011
Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) was called out late Sunday afternoon, Aug. 14, to assist an injured climber in the Indian Peaks Wilderness above Crater Lake.Ben Hargen ,29, of Fort Collins had fallen and broken his arm and ankle on the Peck Glacier, one of several high alpine hanging glaciers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.Hargen and friends had just completed a route on Lone Eagle Peak.One of his climbing partners had hiked out to the Monarch Lake trailhead to make the call for help and was able to provide a good map location for his friend. The third member of the party had stayed with Hargen on the mountain.Seventeen GCSAR members responded Monarch Lake. To reach the accident site, rescuers would have to hike eight miles of difficult trail, and then ascend 1,000 feet up a steep boulder field to the base of the glacier. Hargen would then have to be evacuated using ropes and other technical gear down to Crater Lake, followed by an arduous trail carry out to Monarch Lake.In an effort to expedite the rescue, St. Anthony’s Flight for Life (FFL) was requested to fly in and scout the area, possibly evacuating the patient. Another option was to activate the FFL “Lift Ticket” program in which the FFL helicopter is used to transport rescuers into the backcountry.FFL life was able to land about 400 yards cross valley from the two climbers. They dropped off one of the two flight nurses, and then flew down to Monarch Lake. Two more trips were made, bringing in two GCSAR members and a Stokes litter.The flight nurse had already set off to reach the climbers when the two rescuers started the traverse. It took an hour and a half to negotiate the quarter mile in difficult, steep terrain. As sunset approached, attempts to contact the flight nurse by radio were unsuccessful.The helicopter was forced to return to its base in Denver. When the two rescuers reached the hunkered down climbers, the flight nurse was nowhere to be found. Darkness had fallen.While the helicopter evacuation was being attempted, a ground team was organized to access the site with medical and technical gear. It would take approximately six hours to hike to Crater Lake, and at least another hour to ascend the boulder field.News of the missing flight nurse added a significant element of urgency to the situation. Fortunately, she responded to calls and whistles, and was united with the rescuers a short time later. The patient was stable, so the group settled in for a night on the mountain at 11,400 feet next to the glacier.A two-pronged plan was formulated. The first part was to send the ground team in to hike to Crater Lake, and be ready to start the evacuation at first light. A seven-person ground team, including three Grand County EMS members, departed Monarch Lake at 10 p.m., arriving at Crater Lake at 4 a.m.The second part of the plan was to insert additional rescuers and gear by FFL helicopter in the morning. An eight-person technical team was to regroup at 5 a.m. for this operation. Contingency plans to request additional resources from neighboring SAR teams were also formulated in the event that poor weather or other problems prevented flights in the morning or if the technical lowering and long trail carry required extra manpower. On Monday morning, as the ground team was working their way up the 1,000 foot talus field, and the technical team was standing by ready to be inserted, the FFL helicopter departed Monarch Lake to reconnoiter the area. The rescuers at the glacier had reported that a closer landing zone was possible on the glacier, depending on pilot discretion.Extra gear was stripped from the helicopter for the flight up the narrow valley. The FFL pilot was able to fly in and land on the sloping toe of the Peck Glacier, above the headwall, very close to the rescue party. Hargen and the flight nurse were quickly loaded and the helicopter launched safely, heading for Summit Medical Center.The rescuers gathered equipment and packs and descended the hazardous talus to Crater Lake and began the five hour hike out of the Wilderness. They arrived at Monarch Lake at 5 p.m., successfully completing one of the most extensive and dangerous missions in GCSAR history.