Hunter lost in chilling cold found
Steamboat Springs — After suffering through two nights of below-zero temperatures, a lost California hunter was found about seven miles from his camp in Routt National Forest Monday.
David Hoxsey, 34, a cattle rancher from the Alturas area, suffered second-and third-degree frostbite on his toes but was otherwise in good shape when rescuers found him late afternoon.
It’s been a busy hunting season for local rescuers. The next day on Tuesday, Routt County Search & Rescue volunteer crews were already out in search of another lost hunter, 24 year old John Francis of Aurora. He was found by a helicopter crew around 4 p.m. in the Elk Park area near Mad Creek, just a mile from his camp.
Crews were bracing for another possible search Wednesday. Several other hunters have been rescued this fall.
In Monday’s rescue of Hoxsey, tracks from Hoxsey’s walking stick enabled volunteers to follow his movements across steep drainages Sunday and Monday. A few miles southwest of Walton Peak in the Harrison Creek drainage, searchers spotted the word ‘help’ scratched out in 6 foot letters in the snow and an arrow pointing to Hoxsey’s whereabouts.
“They did a super job to track me that far,” Hoxsey said Tuesday while recovering from his ordeal at Routt Memorial Hospital.
Hoxsey and other hunters were camped with local outfitter Bruce Weng in Sarvis Creek drainage Saturday. He was dropped off on a nearby ridgeline Saturday morning to hunt elk.
About 4:30 that afternoon, Hoxsey shot an elk in the shoulder and began to track it. In so doing he became disoriented and lost.
Weng’s group tried to find Hoxsey, then called Sunday morning for help. Crews headed out when Hoxsey hadn’t returned by 11:00 a.m. typically, hunters lost overnight show up by that hour, rescuers explained.
Hoxsey walked throughout the night Saturday trying to find his camp, enduring unseasonable temperatures of at least 15 degrees below zero. He walked more on Sunday but around 3 p.m. he found wood and camped by a small fire.
“My feet were cold and I spent a very tortuous evening with them”, Hoxsey recalled.
He was wearing long underwear, wool pants, a shell, wind jacket, a cap, with ear muffs and light glove. He had matches but no food.
He set out walking again Monday after smoke signals didn’t work, often through knee-deep snow. He was found late that afternoon and flown by helicopter to a waiting ambulance at Steamboat Springs airport.
About 15 volunteers hunted for Hoxsey; trackers Mark Satre and Gary Stone walked all night Sunday. Two private and two military helicopters aided in the search.
Search coordinator Guy Loughridge said Hoxsey walked a total of 14 miles in various directions. He followed the Green Creek drainage toward Walton Peak, then hiked into Harrison Creek drainage.
“I was determined to make it no matter what”, Hoxsey said.
Rescuers advise people who are lost in the woods to stay in one place, or follow a drainage directly downhill.
While dozens of hunters are reported missing each year, searchers aren’t usually called in unless they’re lost for more than one night. Unusually frigid temperatures prompted this particular search.
“If it goes into a third night, it gets really scary”, said searcher Bill Keller, who spotted Hoxsey’s tracks from a helicopter.
Search a& Rescue volunteers faced a different kind of emergency Tuesday; they’re out of money and facing more expensive hunts for hunters. Funds set aside from hunting licenses, often reimburse searchers, but take up to 90 days. The search for Hoxsey cost about $11,000.
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State of Colorado Water Commissioner Scott Hummer, whose position administers water rights in south Routt County, said longtime ranching families fear this is the worst year for water availability in their lifetimes.