Skiing, Headlamps, and SAR

Preface: Some of the pictures are grainy and noisy, a couple are out of focus. Such is what you have to deal with shooting at high ISO with a nifty fifty at night.

This is one of the stranger, more unlikely outings I’ve made. It started out simple enough, go up to Berthoud Pass for a few evening laps to enjoy the ridonkulous amounts of snow that fell on Sunday. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? We got started upwards on the west side of the pass about 6:45pm, and found a miserable suncrust an inch thick on top of the powder. We were all amazed that a single day of warm weather did that much damage, but decided to go with it and have fun. Carl decided to skin straight up the boot pack, thinking it would be faster.

Lauren and I bailed after about 10 feet of that fiasco and took the proper skintrack, meeting up with Carl a few minutes later. We ripped skins and got ready to go down, laughing about how bad the snow was. Are we crazy? Why, yes! (as a side note, he threw a pretty rad 360 off the booter behind him, no photo of it though thanks to technical difficulties).

The snow was truly horrible. I’ve said it many times (and I’m sure I’ll say it again), but this was possibly the worst snow I’ve ever skied. I was throwing giant slabby 1″ thick bits all over the place. Here’sLauren doing just that, and she was barely moving.

We’re having fun, right? Right?

After fighting the snow on the way down to the warming hut on top of the pass, we talked to a couple folks who were waiting around in the hut. It turns out a friend of theirs took off for Mines Peak without a pack, water, headlamp, or anything. We started to get a little concerned and discussed it for a few minutes before dropping off a short (but fun) shot from the top of the pass to see if the snow was any better in the trees (it was AWESOME). Lauren drove a shuttle for us, so we were back up top about 10 minutes later. The guy was still missing, so we decided we’d hike up for about 5 minutes, ski down, catch a ride back up (Lauren driving again), and if he still wasn’t back we’d call a friend of Carl’s who’s on SAR.

It’s at the top of our 5 minute hike that I actually got a semi-decent photograph, of Brian.

The skiing was amazing, with untracked knee-deep turns most of the way down, as seen here:

and here:

When we got back, the guy still wasn’t back, so Carl first called the SAR buddy, then 911 (who didn’t understand when he explained that we were right on the border of two different counties), then explained the situation to the sheriff who buzzed up the pass to check out the situation.

The sheriff called SAR who decided to activate immediately, which meant an hour (at best) until they were moving to try to find him. At this point it was about 11:30pm; the guy had been gone since 6:30. Although it wasn’t terribly cold in relative terms, it was still in the teens and getting colder, and my friends and I decided that we were going to try to find him using the information his friend was able to provide. This meant a peak ascent at nearly midnight.

I hugged Lauren and promised I’d come back safe, and we were off. We flew up, covering about 1200′ of vertical in half an hour, getting on top about midnight. I found his footprints heading to the top, but they got jumbled in ski and snowboard prints; we searched the structures on the summit for half an hour, along with the surrounding area and saw no footprints leading away. Here’s a blurry shot of the microwave dishes on the top of Mines:

I spoke to SAR on my phone from the summit, giving them GPS coords, detailing what I’d seen, etc. It was beautifully calm at first, but the winds started to pick up shortly after midnight. Deciding that we’d done all we could, the three of us set off for the pass, trying to enjoy the ski descent in a foot of pow (until treeline, where it promptly became crusty).

I wasn’t optimistic about the outcome, but this afternoon I got amazing news. He somehow hiked out to the north, and made his way back to the road. I thought he would’ve tried to hunker down for the night, but he was cold so he kept moving to stay warm. He was hitchhiking his way to the top of the pass, and told the people he caught a ride with he was lost; a few minutes later the truck carrying him went by an SAR vehicle, so they pulled over and said “I think we have your guy.” No major injuries, just a little frostbite on one hand and foot.

I got home after 2am, and drank at least a gallon of coffee today at work. I’m exhausted, and I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

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