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Wild spring weather catches hikers off-guard, leads to helicopter rescue

Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers make their way across the first of three creeks they needed to cross to reach some hikers that were stranded north of Steamboat Springs. (Courtesy)

Steamboat Springs saw what the National Weather Service in Grand Junction called some “wild spring weather” Sunday. The high was just shy of a record at 78 degrees and the low was just above freezing at 36.

It rained at times, it was sunny at times, and at higher elevations, it even snowed. Days like Sunday illustrate why it is important to be prepared for the weather when venturing out into the backcountry, especially in the spring.

“Look at your weather forecast; be properly dressed for the weather to turn in a heartbeat,” said Kristia Check-Hill, incident commander with Routt County Search and Rescue. “Maybe think sooner than later, ‘Is this a good idea to continue?’”



This came to a head in a call that lasted about 10 hours Sunday evening, when Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers found two hikers who were stranded in the wilderness just north of Steamboat Springs.

The hikers departed from Mad Creek trailhead, and by around 4:30 p.m., they were about halfway between there and the Elk Park trailhead. At this point, they had been were walking through deep snow for awhile, and they were cold, tired and wet, Check-Hill said.



The two hikers were only dressed in shorts and T-shirts, which was a major factor in how volunteers proceeded with the rescue.

Two teams were sent to find the hikers, one from the Mad Creek side and another from the Elk Park side. Both teams found the hikers at around the same time at 10:25 p.m., Check-Hill said. Teams were slowed, because they could only take ATVs so far before they needed to walk, crossing several creeks and walking through deep snow themselves.

Because of how the two hikers were dressed and how long teams had already been in the field, Check-Hill opted to call in a helicopter from Classic Air. In the first attempt, the helicopter was not able to get to the hikers, but after refueling, it was able to land and pick up hikers and some of the rescuers.

Four of the volunteers retraced their steps back to the Mad Creek trailhead early Monday morning, and everyone had returned around 2 a.m. The hikers were not injured and made it back to their vehicle safely. Volunteers returned to the area Monday morning to retrieve gear that was left Sunday night.

“Even though it was on a trail, it is never just as easy as saying, ’we are just going to go up a trail,”’ Check-Hill said.

Trail conditions can be pretty uncertain this time of year, and it is common for there to still be feet of snow on them in some areas, especially in the shade. They can also be pretty wet and slippery in some spots.

Creeks also are higher this time of year, and people should be extra careful not to fall in them or slip and hurt themselves, Check-Hill said. She also added that a creek would likely be higher later in the day as snow is melting throughout the day and collecting in these creeks.

“This time of year when we are getting to our peak time of snowmelt, who knows how treacherous that creek could be? You would hate to try to cross it and get really wet or break an ankle,” Check-Hill said. “Then you are really in trouble.”


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