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Snow and cold temperatures made for a busy weekend for search and rescue volunteers

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs’ blanketing of snow made for a busy weekend for Routt County Search and Rescue personnel.

While there isn’t any specific season that is busier for the volunteers, it always seems to be when the weather is more extreme, which can extend the time it takes to reach someone in need of help.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared to spend a lot of time out there,” said Jay Bowman, president of Routt County Search and Rescue. “With these temperatures and the snow on the ground, you just don’t want to go out without having proper equipment, proper clothing and the ability to make a fire and contact somebody.”

At around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Search and Rescue volunteers responded to a call of a father and son who had gotten turned around and had trouble finding the vehicle they had parked at the Sawtooth Trailhead near Moffat County.

“They were cold, wet and tired and were not sure which way to go,” said Kristia Check-Hill, incident commander for Search and Rescue. “They were further from their vehicle then they thought.”

It took two team members over two hours to make their way to the lost men and another hour to get them back to their vehicle at the trailhead.

From start to finish, it took volunteers over seven hours to complete the rescue, not returning until 5:45 a.m.

At 3:45 p.m. Sunday, a deputy with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office reported his department had received information from a SPOT alert device about a hunter who had injured his knee.

A SPOT alert device uses GPS and allows the user to text or call 911 and give searchers their location without a cell phone signal. Check-Hill was able to contact the hunter and get a good location to where he was with the device.

“He was extremely prepared to stay because he had been doing that moving around looking for his elk, but he heard his knee pop and, now all of a sudden, couldn’t put any weight on it,” Check-Hill said. “He was a strong, strapping man carrying a 70-pound pack, but then he got the injury.”

The searchers went down through Toponas, south of Yampa, and made their way to the Lazy Nights Ranch. Check-Hill said the ranch crew allowed Search and Rescue volunteers to use their property to access the hunter.

“They were super, super helpful,” Check-Hill said of the ranchers. “You can’t do it without being a team.”

The hunter was still an 18-mile ATV trip plus another mile on foot away the ranch. Rescuers got him out and carried him to the ATVs, where he was able to sit for the ride out.

At the staging area, he was taken by ambulance to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs with a knee injury that will require surgery.

The marathon call, which did not end until 5:30 a.m. Monday, took rescuers over 13 hours to complete.

“It was a long, long, cold, cold night,” Check-Hill said.

She stressed that when people need help, they should call as soon as they can.

“Call early, because we would rather turn around and not have you need us,” Check-Hill said. “Don’t hesitate to call because Search and Rescue does not charge.”

On Monday night, Search and Rescue got a call around 9 p.m. for a man that had not come out of the woods when expected. By the time they got information and were preparing to start a rescue, the man had made his way out, and the rescue was called off.

Fifteen to 20 minutes later, Search and Rescue received another similar call. But again, it was called off because the man showed up where he was supposed to be.

Just minutes after the second call, they received a third. A hunter was supposed to make contact with his parents to let them know how the hunt had gone and that he was out of the wilderness, but he was overdue to make the call.

Based on conversations with the parents, Search and Rescue decided to hold off until the morning because the hunter had been well prepared. On Tuesday morning, they received word that the hunter’s truck had gotten stuck causing his delay, and he was making his way out around noon Tuesday.

“They kind of all resolved themselves, but within an hour, we had bang, bang, bang. It was crazy,” Check-Hill said.


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