A 30-year-old woman visiting from California was rescued Sunday night after she suffered a lower-leg injury while hiking the Sneffels Highline Trail, according to Susan Lilly, San Miguel Sheriff’s Office public information officer.
The hiker, who was not identified by authorities, was flown by helicopter to Montrose Memorial Hospital for the non-life threatening injury. The call came through just after 5 p.m. A “hasty team,” which consisted of two Search and Rescue members on motorbikes, was first into the area, Lilly explained, followed by a ground team of five, including two deputies. The helicopter was en route simultaneously, she added, and was able to land in a nearby clearing. The woman and her hiking partner were approximately two hours from the Jud Wiebe trailhead. The injured hiker was flown to Montrose around 11:30 p.m. The hikers were not prepared for the backcountry, Lilly added, which could have made the situation worse, especially if they had to spend the night in the backcountry.
“They didn’t have enough food or water, shelter and clothing to spend the night in the backcountry,” she said, adding that their only source of light was from a dying cellphone.
With evening and overnight temperatures near freezing this time of year, hypothermia “can become a threat,” Lilly said.
“Being out there exposed to cold could be life threatening. She could have become dangerously hypothermic,” she added.
Plus, it’s not always a guarantee that Search and Rescue personnel will reach a person in need of medical attention or extraction in a timely matter.
“The fact is it doesn’t always go smoothly. People can’t always count on us to get to them in a few hours,” Lilly said. “We try to do that. That’s what we train for, but safety is always going to come first.”
Lilly emphasized backcountry preparedness for anyone — locals and visitors alike — who hikes in the area.
A backpack with warm clothing, a second source of light, water and extra food, emergency shelter, and something to start a fire with is something everyone should have, she added.
“That may seem like a long list to people, but there are a lot of lightweight items you can make a kit out of.
If you get in the practice of carrying your kit like you wear your seatbelt, you’re probably in good shape,” Lilly said.
Daniel and Jen D’Amico of Colorado Springs were enjoying lower Cornet Creek Falls Tuesday afternoon. The newlywed couple said they always carry a backpack with a jacket, water, snacks, Advil and a first-aid kit.
Jen explained that she rolled her ankle during what they considered an easy hike.
“Luckily, we were at the bottom near the trailhead, but it was not good,” she said.
Local Rachel Chapman, who was walking her friend’s dog Boone on the Jud Wiebe Tuesday, also said she carries water and some snacks when hiking. Footwear with adequate ankle support is something she said is important as well.
“I’ve seen a lot of people roll ankles,” she said. “You have to wear hiking boots, not tennis shoes.”
While outdoors enthusiasts can literally walk down the street and into the backcountry on trails like the Jud Wiebe and Bear Creek in no time, that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, Lilly explained, adding the easy accessibility can create a false sense of security.
“I would liken that to an airbag. I remember when airbags became a standard in vehicles, some public health officials thought it would give people a false sense of security, and they would stop wearing their seatbelt,” she said. “We don’t want people to believe just because they can walk out of town onto a trail that they’re close by or they’re close to a rescue and safety. That’s just not the case in so much of this territory.”
She also suggested buying a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card, which helps fund search and rescue teams throughout the state. The card is $3 for one year or $5 for 12 years. For more information, visit colorado.gov/dola/search-and-rescue-fund.