Heavy snow strands unprepared hunters
The winter storm that whipped into Colorado early this week stranded many hunters in their camps.
Grand County Search and Rescue was involved with several hunter-related search and rescue missions this week, while others stumbled out of the backcountry on their own.
Hunter Larry Ridley, 55, of Jamestown, N.D., was camped in Wheatley Creek north of Parshall with several companions over the weekend when he developed a problem with his ear that left him unable to walk or even stand up.
He stayed in his tent incapacitated for two days. Finally, on Sunday morning with the weather moving in, the group made the decision to leave Ridley at camp while his companions hiked back to their car and civilization to get help.
It took them approximately six hours to climb out of Wheatley Creek back to their vehicle.
Grand County Search and Rescue was notified of the situation Sunday around 4:15 p.m. and initiated a rescue party to evacuate Ridley from his camp before the second wave of the forecasted winter storm moved in.
The hunters had taken a GPS coordinate for the camp and one of them was able to accompany the rescue team back to Ridley.
An easier route to the camp from the Wheatley Creek Trailhead was planned.
GCSAR volunteers staged at the bottom of CR 21 (Corral Peaks Road) for the 12-mile drive up to the trailhead. En route, they did a quick hunter assist, returning a lost 17-year-old to his hunting camp near Grouse Mountain.
A team of eight GCSAR members along with an EMT from the Grand County EMS Mountain Medical Response Team (MMRT) and one of Ridley’s hunting party started the two-mile hike to the hunter camp at 7:30 p.m. They were prepared to transport Ridley by litter if necessary.
Incident Commander Dave Batura said: “This rescue was very brutal. The weather, rain and high winds, drained energy from everyone. The terrain was bad with horrible footing due to snow, ice and mud.” Some of the route in required off-trail map and compass navigation. Poor radio communications added to the overall difficulty of the rescue.
Team One did not make it to Ridley until nearly 11 p.m. Two of the search and rescue members had to turn back before reaching the camp, leaving only eight rescuers for the evacuation.
Additional rescue team members were paged to assist with the rescue. A total of 14 team members assisted over the course of the 10-hour operation.
With the aid of rescuers as support, Ridley was able to walk to the trailhead where he was turned over to an EMS ambulance. All team members were out of the field and on their way to dry clothes and warm beds by 2 a.m.
On Tuesday morning, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office received three or four phone additional calls from hunters that were stuck in the backcountry due to snow on the roads. All those calls came from the west end of Grand County, from Gore Pass to Rabbit Ears.
Sheriff Rod Johnson said his team worked through each struck/stranded hunter call individually, depending upon their condition and what kind of equipment they had.
On Tuesday night, search and rescue members responded to Church Park to rescue Nick Barlie, 18, of Denver.
Barlie was hunting with a large hunting party that was stranded by the recent snowstorm in Beaver Creek on a dead-end spur off Forest Service Road 134.
All five of their vehicles, including a camper, were trapped by up to two feet of snow.
Nick, a diabetic, was in desperate need of medication. Three volunteers staged snowmobiles at the Church Park Trailhead on CR 50 and rode to the hunter camp in sub-freezing temperatures and whiteout conditions, picked Barlie up and transported him to a waiting ambulance.
Also on Tuesday night, search and rescue was notified of an overdue hunter near Chimney Rock Road north of Kremmling.
After a Deputy interviewed the reporting party, a hasty search team was put on standby while the Incident Commander continued to size up the situation by phone with the hunter’s partner.
The hunter had set off after a wounded deer just before dusk and had not returned by 9 p.m.
Over the course of several phone calls and a continuing road search by the hunting party contact by FRS radio was made. The hunter’s GPS batteries had failed, so even though he had a flashlight, he was unable to find his way back to the road in the blizzard.
The hunter was requested to stay put. A few minutes later the hunter spotted the headlights of his partner’s vehicle and was able to find his way to the road.
Grand County Search and Rescue also responded to a mutual aid request from Garfield County, sending two snowmobile searchers to assist with the ongoing search for three hunters in the Flattops that had been missing since Saturday. The three hunters were found alive by a National Guard helicopter around 10 a.m on Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, sheriff’s deputies were investigating a possible SOS signal near Williams Peak south of Parshall was reported by a citizen.
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