Recovery Mission on Broken Hand Pass – 2 & 3 August, 2011

Monday August 1st at 23:03, CCSAR was notified of an overdue climber who had not met up with his father in Gardner as planned, (where he planned to get batteries and a new SPOT unit to replace one he had dropped and broken). The 50 year old Denver area man had a month’s vacation and a plan to summit fifty 14ers in one month. He had car camped at the S. Colony trailhead Saturday and Sunday nights, made the Humbolt summit on Sunday; with a plan to summit both  Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle on Monday. He was to have camped at the Lily Lake Trailhead Monday night with his father and summit Lindsey on Tuesday. The father was parked in Gardner from 14:00 – overnight. The Custer Sheriff’s Office had a deputy checking for subject’s 93 Ford Explorer between 23:00 Monday and 01:00 Tuesday.

Lower South Colony Lake

This photo, taken from Broken Hand Pass, is eerily similar to one taken a year earlier on a recovery mission.

The subject had sent 3 text messages to his wife to the effect of:

  • 04:00 ~ Boots on the ground
  • 09:30 ~ Would you call dad.  Lost 2-2.5 hrs on a loop, will be running late.
  • 15:30 ~ Trying to make way back.  GPS Batteries died.  Will be even later. Think I can find the way.

At 00:39 Tuesday August 2rd, dispatch contacted the CCSAR Incident Commander (IC) and said the vehicle had not been located by deputies on the S. Colony Lakes Rd trailhead. The IC made contact with the wife at 00:42 and followed that with a call to dispatch again at 01:05 to re-confirm vehicle was not located at the trailhead and to request Custer dispatch contact Huerfano Sheriff’s Office with request that they check the Lily Lakes Trailhead for the vehicle; as subject may have made it out. Family felt he’d be a walk-out in the morning and now requested dispatch and SAR to postpone immediate activation of a rescue team. Clearing the Lily Lake Trailhead for vehicle was the next action item, without a confirmed vehicle at S. Colony.

Second request for Huerfano to check Lily Lake Trailhead made at 06:30. IC also requested dispatch run plate number to confirm as registered to subject vehicle, if there was any question.  The IC sent a text to subject’s phone at 5:05 am, checked and re-checked weather and also checked forums. IC received clearance from the Custer Sheriff’s Office to re-search S. Colony Rd for the subject’s vehicle at 08:17. Two CCSAR members departed barn at 08:49 and located subject vehicle in upper parking above Rainbow Trail at 09:28 am. Members on stand-by were notified to report asap. ATV & UTV shuttles got hasty TRR (Technical Rope Rescue) team deployed from barn at approximately 10:45, followed by Rescue Vehicle 2 (R-2) and other teams. Another CCSAR member was in the drainage on a personal hike and met-up with the  CCSAR team and joined the search. Eleven ground pounders, two ATV team members, and three in the office were initially involved.

While still at upper parking lot, the two CCSAR members interviewed a couple who felt sure that they had seen and spoke to subject at approximately 17:00 on Monday, while  both parties were  descending from Crestone Needle.  Subject was reportedly off-route and both his GPS and cell phone batteries were depleted. Subject responded that he felt the couple were the ones off-route; and that he was on the same route he had earlier climbed. He would not retreat and join their party as requested. They placed him descending a couloir climber’s right of Broken Hand Pass (BHP). The two CCSAR members proceeded on into S. Colony Lakes area for initial search.  This clue proved to be the key to the success of the ensuing mission.

Hasty TRR team found the subject, per clue, in couloir, climbers right of BHP near 12,700’ at 13:40.  MOI was consistent with a fall, subject was deceased.   Gear was deployed for recovery efforts with six TRR members in the field, plus ground pounders. Weather twice prevented attempts at packaging and/or recovery. Gear cache was made, out of the bad weather, in a civilian tent in the Lower Lake area and teams were all recalled for the day. Plans were made for August 3rd recovery mission that night.  Five members from Western State Mountain Rescue Team team deployed from Gunnision at 21:30; arriving at 00:30 on 8/3.  Custer Sheriff’s Office was notified that they would be camped in SAR barn.

WSMRT in action.

On Wednesday 8/3 there were 14 in the field, including 5 TRR from Western State and the Custer Coroner. A new IC was in the field with two TRR teams departing barn at 04:20. Four additional team members deployed approx. 05:15. Horse team was initially planned for; however they were later stood down. Field Teams had subject to vehicles at the highest possible staging area at 11:15 and were back at base at 12:45.

Many thanks to Western State Mountain Rescue Team and to our own volunteers.

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