Rescue in Buff Pass backcountry lasts until early morning
January 10, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Search and Rescue made its first field rescue of 2019 Wednesday after two snowmobilers got stranded on the north fork of the Fish Creek drainage.
The rescue took more than seven hours and lasted until 1 a.m. because of a variety of complicating factors, namely poor cell service and potential avalanche dangers.
Volunteers received an initial call at 4 p.m. from the two men who said their snowmobiles were stuck. The men tried to get out of the drainage on their own, then called Search and Rescue again at 6 p.m. to say they needed assistance.
10 Backcountry Essentials
Routt County Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman advises that adventurers always bring these 10 items on backcountry excursions:
• Navigation: Map, compass and GPS system
• Sun protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen and hat
• Insulation: Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell and thermal underwear
• Illumination: Flashlight, lanterns and headlamp
• First-aid supplies: First-aid kit
• Fire: Matches, lighter and fire starters
• Repair kit and tools: Duct tape, knife, screwdriver and scissors
• Nutrition: Food
• Hydration: Water and water treatment supplies
• Emergency shelter: Tent, space blanket, tarp and bivy
Kristia Check-Hill, the incident commander, said the men came from out of state and were not familiar with the area. The drainage where they got stuck poses a serious avalanche risk, especially to snowmobilers.
"It's really narrow. It's steep, and there are rocks," Check-Hill said. "That's why people don't go down there."
A team of six volunteer rescuers took snowmobiles until the terrain became too dangerous. Three of the volunteers traveled the rest of the way on skis. The men hiked along Fish Creek until they could find cell service to better describe their location. Rescuers finally made contact with the men at about 9:15 p.m. and gave them snowshoes to hike out.
The volunteers accompanied the men to ensure they returned to their truck safely. Check-Hill said that extra time and precautions were taken to find a safe path back to the waiting Search and Rescue snowmobiles through loose snow and darkness.
Jay Bowman, who took over this year as Search and Rescue's new president, is only too familiar with the dangers of winter rescue missions. He was caught in an avalanche in 2017 while trying to reach a skier and snowboarder lost in Fish Creek Canyon.
"Even though we're volunteers, we're out there putting ourselves into dangerous situations," Bowman said.
He emphasized people need to be prepared before they venture into the backcountry. This includes having maps of the area and a working avalanche beacon. Bowman said Search and Rescue recently purchased an avalanche beacon station. It will soon be near the Dry Lake Campground and will allow people to test their beacons to ensure they work in the event of an avalanche.
In addition to a beacon, Bowman advises anyone going into the backcountry to take the “10 Essentials” from the Mountain Rescue Association’s General Backcountry Safety Workbook.
He said a successful rescue is not guaranteed. People should be prepared to spend multiple hours waiting for a rescue or to travel to safety on their own.
"Don't go to the backcountry and think that someone will easily be able to come and get you," he said.