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Two hikers rescued from the Quandary Peak couloir during an 8-hour mission

Members of the Summit County Rescue Group helped rescue two hikers from a couloir on Quandary Peak on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

Chris Denning/Summit County Rescue Group

A technical, eight-hour mission on Wednesday, May 22, led to the rescue of two hikers who fell on a Colorado 14er in a tight couloir, according to a press release from the Summit County Rescue Group.

The hikers, who were Front Range residents, escaped unharmed from the couloir on the south side of Quandary Peak, but the rescue mission exposed rescuers to potential hazards such as falling rocks and ice, said Benjamin Butler, president of the Summit County Rescue Group.

“They were well equipped to walk around Quandary this time of year,” Butler said. “But once they got off the trail and deviated from the plan, they had more difficulty getting into terrain that was much steeper, icier and rockier, eventually ending up in some cliffs.”

Just before 2 p.m., the Sheriff’s Office and rescue party were dispatched to assist the two hikers, who had veered off the trail, lost their balance and slipped about 100 feet, the release said. Unable to climb back to the ridge, the hikers reportedly began descending but found themselves unable to continue in the steep, snow-covered couloir.

The hikers could be quickly located with the help of a drone, according to the press release. But due to the time of year and the hikers’ precarious position in the couloir, the rescue “necessitated careful coordination of personnel and resources to ensure safety,” the news release said.

The couloir from which two hikers were rescued is pictured on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.
Chris Denning/Summit County Rescue Group

A Flight for Life helicopter helped four members of the rescue group get to the top of the mountain to descend into the couloir from above, while several more members tried to reach the hikers from below, Butler said. A Blackhawk helicopter also arrived on the scene, but it was determined that the hikers were not in a safe place to perform a tow rescue, he said.

Because a helicopter hoist was not an option, rescuers decided that members of the Summit County Rescue Group who climbed the couloir from below would have to use high-angle rope rescue techniques to gain access to the hikers, Butler said.

As rescuers worked to navigate the couloir, attaching ropes to anchors and lowering the hikers from the couloir, another group of rescuers helped assess the situation from a distance, monitoring the hikers and any hazards such as falling rocks in the were watching, he said.

“The location where these individuals ended up really contributed to how long and how difficult it was to access,” Butler said.

The rescue group got the two hikers back to safety around 10 p.m., Butler said. Both hikers had only minor injuries and refused medical attention.

In total, Summit County Rescue Group deployed 17 field members for the mission, not including command and logistics personnel, the release said.

Members of the Summit County Rescue Group navigate icy and rocky terrain during a rescue on Quandary Peak on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.
Chris Denning/Summit County Rescue Group

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, anyone visiting Colorado should be aware that the high peaks are still not free of snow and could pose a challenge for unprepared backcountry travelers, Butler said.

Anyone heading inland should get going early while the snow is still firm from overnight frost, Butler added. As the day warms, the snow softens, so hikers can sink into the snow and start post-holing – or sink so deep that it becomes difficult to move. Traction such as crampons can be useful early in the day in the icy conditions, while snowshoes or skis may be needed to stay on the snow as it warms into the afternoon, he said.

For any backcountry excursion, it’s important to have a plan and communicate that plan, including the expected route and return time, to anyone staying behind, Butler said. Anyone traveling inland must have the 10 essentials with them.

Like these two hikers who called search and rescue as soon as they realized they were in a trick situation, Butler said anyone experiencing trouble in the backcountry should call search and rescue immediately.

“If we had had to find these people at dusk, it would have been a very different situation,” Butler said. “If you are in a precarious situation, call search and rescue as soon as you recognize that situation. A few extra hours can mean the difference between a search at night and a possible technical rescue at night.”

This story comes from Summit Daily.