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Crews respond to 2 lost hiker reports on Quandary Peak

Two parties of lost hikers were reported in a month where softening snow can make for dangerous 14er conditions.
Credit: Summit County Rescue Group
Summit of Quandary Peak in summer.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Rescue crews received calls to aid two parties of lost hikers on Quandary Peak on Sunday, May 17.

The first report came around 12 p.m. Sunday when a party called to report someone yelling for help on Quandary Peak in Summit County, Colorado. A hiker had summited the peak, but on the descent lost the trail and ended up in very soft snow until he was unable to climb out a drainage.

Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG) responded with three teams who spoke with additional hikers who had also heard the yelling. The lost party was eventually located by a good Samaritan skier who guided the man down to McCullough Gulch Road where he was transported back to the trailhead parking lot with no injuries.

After the conclusion of the first incident, around 3:40 p.m. Sunday, a second call was received of two women who had also summited Quandary Peak and lost the trail during their descent and were in deep snow on the southeast flank.

Once rescue crews received the hikers' cell phone coordinates, they were advised to continue hiking downhill towards Blue Lakes Road. A Summit County Rescue Group team member and a Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy waited in the area in case further assistance was required.

The women were at the road approximately 40 minutes after their initial call for assistance and they were provided a courtesy ride to their vehicle at the trailhead.

"We would like to remind hikers that at this time of year the snow conditions can change throughout the day," said SCRG Spokesman Charles Pitman. "Hiking to the top of many peaks may be on very firm snow in the early morning hours, but as the temperature warms up, the snow quickly softens. What starts out as a comfortable ‘boot pack’ hike, that is, walking on top of the frozen snow, can easily end up with the hiker sinking in 12 to 36 inches later in the day. The result can be at the very least wet footwear compounded by cold feet."

"Longer exposure can lead to frostbite," adds Pitman. "In addition, ‘post holing’ through deep snow is very tiring and if a hiker finds him or herself in a gully, it could be very difficult to climb up and out."

Pitman recommends either timing the hike to conclude prior to the snow becoming soft, or taking snowshoes as a backup.

SCRG says it's wise to turn off cell phones when in the backcountry.

“In the case of the man who was lost, his cell phone battery had died, a very common occurrence," said Pitman. "He wisely did have a back-up battery, but had forgotten the cable to attach it to his phone. The smallest things can result in a bad day.” 

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