Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lost on Longs

Here are words we never like to hear: "When the two men reached this junction area, they separated." And guess what - one of them got lost. In a release from Rocky Mountain National Park sent Saturday, the news was good: "Overdue hiker found."
The release said: "A 32-year-old male from Denver was contacted by rangers at 6:50 p.m. on the east slope of Mount Lady Washington. Prior to this he was last seen near Battle Mountain Junction in the Longs Peak area this morning,... at 5:30 a.m. He and his hiking partner were planning to ice climb near Chasm Lake. When the two men reached this junction area they separated. One traveled back to the Longs Peak parking area and the other planned to continue to Chasm Lake. Their plan was to meet back at the parking lot by 8:30 a.m.

The man who went to Chasm Lake had not been seen since 5:30 a.m. Battle Mountain Junction is 2.8 miles from the Longs Peak Trailhead and is located at 10,900 feet. Chasm Lake is 4.2 miles from the Longs Peak Trailhead and is located at 11,760 feet. Rocky Mountain National Park was contacted by the hiking partner at 11 a.m. notifying park staff of the situation but not asking for assistance. The partner, who was hiking back up the trail, asked another person hiking down the trail to call the park and ask for assistance later in the morning. This call was made at 12:45. Rangers left the trailhead at 3:15 p.m. The weather conditions during the day continued to deteriorate with heavy snowfall throughout the area and white-out conditions reported above tree line (11,500 feet).

The search efforts were in the process of winding down, due to darkness, when the rangers saw a headlamp moving down Mount Lady Washington. They contacted him at 6:50 p.m. at approximately 12,000 feet. The man was in good condition. Rangers gave him water and food and are currently traveling down the trail with him and are estimated to be at the Longs Peak Trailhead at 8:30 p.m."

Headlamp: good. Food, water and proper clothing: Good. No snowshoes in an area with heavy snowfall: not so good. Separating from your hiking partner: not so good. A friend of mine took an avalanche class recently on Hoosier Pass. He was wearing snowshoes, and another guy in the class was on telemark skis. At one point, the guy nearly disappeared, after skiing over a particularly deep snow well. The snow might be dwindling in the mountains, but one visit to the high country is all it takes to remind you that there's a huge base to melt through.

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