Monday, June 19, 2006

First fourteener rescue of the summer

Photo from
A Westminster man climbing El Diente with his son was the first fourteener rescue to make the news this year.

El Diente is known for steep, loose rock, and is rarely climbed by anyone except the growing cabal of Coloradans trying to climb all the state's 14,000-foot peaks.

According to the Telluride Daily Planet, 51-year old Ronald Deffenbaugh was climbing the remote peak on Friday when he fell about 50 feet and broke his ankle. His son was able to get cell phone service and called search and rescue, which radioed for a helicopter.

No problem, right? Easy extraction.

There were no large military helicopters available to winch him off the steep slope. The two helicopters that did respond were unable to reach the area because of high winds. So Deffenbaugh waited.

The temperature up so high quickly dropped to 35 degrees. Rescuers reached him a few hours later, but it took them 21 hours to carry him down the steep, loose slope to a spot where he could be air-lifted.

El Diente, and its neighbors, Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak, are fairly steep, challenging, dangerous peaks near Telluride. A search and rescue veteran quoted in the Daily Planet says his team has pulled about eight dead people off El Diente. I only find a report of one killed, in 2004, on neighboring Wilson Peak, but I'm sure he wasn't the first.

A few lessons we can take from this. Always plan for the worst on these big mountains. Even if you only twist an ankle, it could mean spending hours on cold and possibly stormy slopes. Bring more food, water and clothing than you think you'll need.

Also, something I noticed when climbing Little Bear Peak last week. Your cell phone may indicate that you have service, but not be able to connect a call when you need it. Take it along, but don't count on it to get you out of a bind.

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