Crestone Needle fall Aug 13, 2017

Custer County Search and Rescue (CCSAR) was notified by the Custer County Sheriff’s office at 15:25 on Sunday, August 13th, of a hiker who had fallen on Crestone Needle and had a reported lower leg compound fracture.  CCSAR was instructed to coordinate with Saguache County SAR and the decision was made to utilize a unified command structure with both counties working to expedite getting resources into the area.

A 42 year old man had reportedly fallen approximately 100 feet.  His climbing partner was able to render aid and deployed an emergency bivy sack when a heavy hail storm ensued on the estimated sixty degree slope that the two men were located on, at approximately 13,500’ on Crestone Needle’s south side in Saguache County.

The Colorado Search and Rescue Board (CSRB) was contacted for assistance in deploying the Colorado National Guard (CONG) to assist in the mission.  Additional resources were requested, including air ambulance, but weather prohibited the insertion of ground teams and eleven CCSAR personnel departed from Westcliffe to access the subjects from the ground, with another three ground personnel dispatched from Saguache County to assist from the Custer County side, should an air rescue be aborted.

The High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum Colorado, deployed a UH60 Blackhawk helicopter, “Talon 17” at 18:00 hours and arrived in the area at 19:01, with two Vail Mountain Rescue Group technicians aboard.  Ground teams had just made their way up Broken Hand Pass in treacherous conditions with deep hail, as the HAATS crew made visual contact with the party and proceeded to hoist the two from the site.  The pair were flown to a landing zone at the lower parking area at 20:00 hours and an awaiting Flight for Life helicopter transported the man to an area hospital where he underwent surgery Sunday night.  The second man was uninjured and transported back to Westcliffe by ground teams.  The mission concluded at 23:40 hours, when CCSAR ground teams returned to their base.

CCSAR would like to remind everyone carry essential items for an emergency, including emergency shelter and first aid items and to be prepared for a night out on the mountain, should darkness or weather delay a rescue.  For a list of the “10 essentials” visit

The PLB that the subject carried was damaged during his fall.  He also had a GPS and both had cell phones, which fortunately were working and provided rescuers with critical information.

CCSAR was also called into action on August 1st, in the Great Sand Dunes Park Preserve to assist a man with a displaced tib/fib fracture in the Upper Sand Creek Lakes area and again on August 4th, to the Cottonwood Pass trail below the Lower Sand Creek trail, for a woman who had been thrown from a horse, with suspected lower back and hip injuries.  Due to their injuries, Flight for Life and Reach Air assisted in patient evacuations on those call outs, respectively.




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Helmet saves mans life on Crestone Needle Fall



Custer County Search and Rescue members were again stretched thin this past week, with missions spanning five consecutive days.

On Wednesday, August 10th, CCSAR was activated to search for a PA man, who hadn’t been heard from in a week.  Family and friends became concerned when the man didn’t respond to text messages wishing him a happy 70th birthday.  James Beckerich, from West Chester PA, hadn’t been heard from since August 3rd, when he sent a text message saying he had turned around short of his summit bid and was working his way down the mountain.  An accomplished climber, Beckerich was training for an upcoming guided trip in Washington State.  He had also been to Everest on a failed summit bid, as well as many other successful climbs to his credit.

Flight for Life assisted ground teams in an aerial search on Wednesday afternoon and both the man’s vehicle and campsite were located the first day.  Beckerich had also signed into the Horn Lakes Trail register, indicating that he planned to summit Fluted Peak.  Ground crews failed to turn up any additional clues on Wednesday.

Plans for the next day, included support by an additional team from Western State Mountain Rescue and logistical support from the Colorado State Rescue Board (CSRB).   The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, (AFRCC), at Tyndall AFB in Florida garnered “forensic data” from the man’s cell phone, which significantly narrowed the search area and the Colorado National Guard at Buckley AFB in Aurora, inserted ground teams along the ridgeline, via a UH-60 Blackhawk, while another three man team hiked back into the Horn Lakes drainage.

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SAR teams located the man, just before noon on Thursday August 11th.  He had apparently fallen to his death while descending midway along the ridgeline on August 3rd.  The recovery concluded at 4pm, with all teams back at base.

CCSAR was again activated, at 10:22 on Friday August 12th, for a fall with injuries in the west couloir on Crestone Needle at 13,700 feet.  Utilizing FFL’s “Lift Ticket” program, the first three ground teams of technical climbers and EMT’s were inserted by helicopter to Cottonwood Lake.  Additional resources, including a four person WSMRT, hiked into the scene.

Tim Hunek, age 57 from Rexford NY, had fallen on descent.  His son was brought to safety by ground teams, while other SAR resources worked the technical terrain throughout the night.  Hunek was flown from Cottonwood Lake to Pueblo at 9:30 on Saturday morning.  He was later transferred to a Denver hospital for further treatment.  Hunek’s climbing helmet was credited by FFL medical personnel as having saved his life, although he also suffered numerous fractures and other injuries.  The mission concluded at 2:00pm, with all personnel back at base.  CCSAR members further supported the Western State team, by shuttling them back to Gunnison.

On Sunday, August 14th, CCSAR resources were again deployed.  This time in support of Pueblo County, for an ankle injury below Lake San Isabel at a popular “natural water slide”.  Ground teams transported the injured 31 year old woman by litter to a CCSAR ATV, who brought the woman to the waiting ambulance for transport.  That relatively short response, concluded at 3:45 pm.

The subjects of these recent missions did not have CORSAR cards, to help the team recoup expenses.  The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card provides funding support to county sheriffs’ departments statewide to ensure that SAR teams have the equipment and training to help lost and/or injured people.  They can be purchased online, or at any of 300 vendors statewide, including CCSAR and Take a Hike locally.

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2 weeks in July…

Custer County Search and Rescue had an extremely busy two weeks in mid-July.  Beginning July 9th, a 54 year old Denver woman was reported to be seriously ill above tree-line on Humboldt Peak; suffering from AMS, along with reporting sign and symptoms consistent with a coronary event.  Teams deployed at night, to the Humboldt saddle, but later learned from ongoing conversations with the subject via cell phone, that she was somewhere along the East Ridge instead of the standard route.

The first “hasty” team arrived to the patient’s location at 13,300’ at 02:20 on Sunday, July 10th.  The patient’s condition was assessed and she was then walked down some 1,200 feet by headlamp, to  a landing zone, where she was kept warm, prior to being transferred to Flight for Life at 07:30 and flown to St. Mary Corwin for further evaluation.  All teams returned to base and were released at 12:00pm; only to receive a 2nd call-out at approximately 15:30 hours.

The 2nd call-out, was a mutual aid request from Saguache County, after they received a 911 call indicating that a man had fallen some 100 feet on Crestone Needle and could not be located.  John Stephen Hunt, 55 of Parker Colorado, fell late Sunday afternoon in the fall, after descending off-route. His climbing partner, who witnessed the fall, notified law enforcement.  Mr. Hunt had reportedly climbed all 54 Colorado 14-ers, some more than once and had climbed Crestone Needle at least twice before.   A Saguache SAR hasty team was inserted via Flight for Life, located the body and stayed on scene Sunday night.

A 3rd member of the party, who had turned back when he felt the conditions exceeded his ability, became disoriented and also requested assistance, by alerting his family of his situation. They contacted law enforcement and a CCSAR team located that individual and brought him to Westcliffe Sunday night, resulting in a 3rd call in 24 hours.

On Monday, July 11th, a three person Custer County SAR team coordinated with the two person Saguache team to manage lowering operations and transfer the man’s body to the landing zone, completing that operation at 10:45 Monday.  Mechanical and logistical issues with Flight for Life prevented completion of the recovery mission and the effort was aborted at 17:30 hours, with both teams hiking out together, via Broken Hand Pass, arriving in Westcliffe at 23:15.  During their descent of Broken Hand Pass, CCSAR was called upon to assist another individual off the mountain, belaying the man down Broken Hand Pass.   On Tuesday, July 12th, a team of two from Western State Mountain Rescue team, (WSMRT) relieved local rescue teams to complete the recovery mission with Flight for Life.

Friday, July 15th, CCSAR was again called out, this time to assist Pueblo County SAR with a difficult litter carryout of a woman with a leg injury in a popular area below Lake San Isabel.

On Sunday evening, July 17th, a pair of stranded climbers on Crestone Needle who were in need of rescue, contacted 911 for assistance.  Like the Hunt party, they had descended off route and were stranded just above where Hunt’s body had been located.   The pair confirmed their location using a compass application on their smart phone, providing their coordinates to search base, who plotted both mission’s coordinates.

The 29 year old Denver woman and 34 year old Denver man had adequate resources to stay secure for the night and SAR teams were dispatched at 4am to retrieve the pair after daybreak.  They were safely lowered to the ground just before noon and the pair was walked out with SAR teams, arriving back at search base at 17:15.

Despite trail head kiosks warning of the dangers of descending off-route, popular forums such as and modern navigation tools; SAR teams continue to see climbers encounter difficulty and even death, when descending off route, when they choose to continue to descend, rather than regaining safe ground by climbing back up to find the trail, which on the return heads generally east along the ridge back to BHP. Descending Crestone Needle off-route leads to well documented terrain traps or worse.



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