The Crestone Eagle, July 2008:

Injured climber rescued from Challenger Peak
by Mary Lowers

Saguache County Search and Rescue team successfully brought a seriously injured climber down from the snowfields below Challenger Peak on Sunday, June 23. Two helicopter flights to the landing area near Willow Lake and the hard work of ten rescue team members got the fifty-two year-old Littleton man off the mountain safely.

The call from a cell phone came into Search & Rescue about 3pm on Sunday. The victim was hiking with two other people and according to team member Ben Brack, “on descent from Challenger Peak while attempting to glissad (slide down the field on your feet using your heels to brake) on a snow field without ice axes and other proper equipment. The forty-five degree angle of the snowfield, and a misstep, increased his speed and the man lost control and came down on his left hip breaking it. He also suffered from multiple contusions and abrasions.”

Brack said that the victim’s friends immediately moved him off the snowfield onto a dry rock area. They went down to their base camp and got him warm clothing and blankets, but he was still suffering from the early stages of hypothermia when the initial six rescue team members were ferried up by helicopter. Brack, who had hiked up 1500 feet to the man’s position, “rewarmed him and stabilized him.”

After the victim was stable, “the team packaged him on a backboard, immobilized his leg and wrapped him in a skeg or stretcher that’s a sled. Then we began the decent, which was pretty dangerous. We started to descend about 7:30pm and the chopper had to leave at 9:30pm. We didn’t know if they could fly him out at all,” said Brack. The rescue team maneuvered the skeg over two snow fields, boulder fields and tundra.

When they reached the landing area at the top of Willow Lake, they called Saguache County Sheriff Mike Norris who arranged for a Flight for Life helicopter to the scene. Ben said, “They had night vision equipment to direct landing on the boulder field.” In seven minutes they had him loaded and were back in the air.

The victim will be ok and is safely home. Brack says that cooperative weather, the luck of a Forest Service EMT being on scene and not having a more severely injured victim contributed to the successful rescue. The victim and his friends did several things right; they were in a group, had extra equipment and clothing, and they called early and stayed in place. “The thing that helped out the most was the cooperative and positive attitude of the victim and his friends,” Brack said. When going up into the wilderness, he recommends a fully charged cell phone that you turn off to hold the charge so it will be ready for a potential emergency.

Saguache County Search and Rescue team members Ben Brack, Josh Wilfong, Marcio Paes Barretto, Steve Wilfong, Ivan Lakish, Chris Botz, with assistance from Jim Vanderpool, Dan Haynes and Saguache County Sheriff Deputy Nick Tolsam, magnificently managed the rescue with less than half of the recommended crew.

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