Cliffed-out hiker hoisted by helicopter from Tenmile Traverse near Frisco with help of Summit County Rescue Group
The hiker who had been attempting the Tenmile Traverse became caught near a rocky feature known as the Dragon between Peak 2 and Peak 3
Summit County Rescue Group coordinated a helicopter hoist of a hiker who became cliffed-out between Peak 2 and Peak 3 on Monday afternoon.
Around 3:45 p.m., the all-volunteer rescue team received a report that a man had become stranded on a steep ledge on the Tenmile Traverse where he did not feel comfortable climbing up or down, according to Glen Kraatz, the mission coordinator on the call.
“From Peak 3 to where this guy is, is ugly,” Kraatz said. “It’s craggy, and there are these fingers of rocks sticking up and you sort of have to climb down and go across and climb around.”
Kraatz, a member of the rescue group for more than 20 years, said the group had a backup plan in place that would have involved dropping a four-person team on the ridge between Peak 4 and Peak 5, hiking to the man and then hiking him out of the area.
For more than an hour, a Flight for Life helicopter — with two rescue group members inside — circled the Tenmile Range as the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site prepared a Black Hawk helicopter for the hoist.
Meanwhile, a few rescue group members and a member of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office special operations team waited at the Frisco Adventure Park, where the Black Hawk was expected to land after hoisting the hiker.
Helicopters from the Colorado National Guard are used only in situations when life, limb or eyesight of the person in need of rescuing is at risk, Summit County Rescue Group member and spokesperson Anna DeBattiste said.
On Monday, the area between Peak 2 and Peak 3 posed an avalanche risk to both rescuers and the cliffed-out man, DeBattiste said. The last time Summit County Rescue Group called for a helicopter hoist was in summer 2019, she said, when a woman fell 10 or 15 feet in about the same area on the Tenmile Traverse and suffered a lower leg injury.
“It is just a very difficult area to get into,” DeBattiste said. “To send teams in on the ground would be really challenging and dangerous.”
Even though it was summer when the rescue group hoisted the injured woman from a similar spot in 2019, DeBattiste said the area is so treacherous that rescuer safety was at risk if teams were to have gone in on foot.
“Parts of it are a scramble. There’s no trail. It’s technical,” DeBattiste said of the Tenmile Traverse. “It’s not for the faint of heart — and definitely not this time of year.”
Rescue group member Kyle Griffin said he hiked the Tenmile Traverse in 2018 and 2019. Between Peak 2 and Peak 3 is a feature of spiny rocks called the dragon, Griffin said, which is the most technical portion of the traverse and includes Class 4 scrambles.
“Winter can present new challenges with technical terrain like that, taking what you see in the summer and changing it into something completely different,” Griffin said at the scene where the helicopter landed Monday. “I haven’t been up there in the winter, but in the summer, it’s pretty technical. So I imagine he’s in a position where he may need some help. That’s why we’re here.”
As the sun set, the window for the hoist mission narrowed. But, just minutes before dark, the Black Hawk descended into the Tenmile Range to rescue the hiker, dropping him safely on the baseball field at the Frisco Adventure Park.
The hiker, who declined to provide his name, said in an interview he had been planning to hike the Tenmile Traverse for a while. He had overnight gear, food, water and two portable phone batteries that allowed him to stay in contact with the mission coordinator as the rescue took place.
As he hiked in toward the dragon, the rocky spires threw him off and he said he couldn’t decide if he should follow the ridgeline or traverse below it. Soon he gave up and decided to hike down to Interstate 70, but he said he ended up in an area between cliffs where he didn’t feel comfortable and decided to call 911.
Describing the sight of the Black Hawk emerging through the sunset to hoist him from the cliff as one of the most beautiful sights he’s ever seen, the hiker thanked the rescue group for getting him out of a sticky situation and potentially saving his life.
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