Out in the cold

“No shoes, no shirt, no problem” is not typically the mindset when preparing for a camping trip in Colorado. But, as you can probably see where this is going, that was the case for two unprepared campers who required rescue in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains after becoming stranded with no food, water, layers or proper shelter.

 According to the Alamosa Volunteer Search & Rescue, emergency personnel were notified around 2:35 a.m. Monday about two hypothermic hikers camped near Lake Como, at an elevation of 11,765 feet. Apparently, the Texas couple hiked up Sunday afternoon, planning to camp at the lake, but never made it and set up camp about ¼ mile from the lake.

 Conditions were extremely dangerous with heavy rain at the time: Lake Como Road was flooding, and there was a high risk of rockfall. When emergency crews arrived, the couple said they were so cold they couldn’t move; the man was vomiting, severely dehydrated and had a headache. They were given hot water bottles and sugary drinks to rehydrate and warm up. All in all, the crack SAR teams had the couple back to safety around 8:30 a.m.

 AVSAR, however, had choice words about the entire ordeal: “Ignorance kills.” The hikers were “highly unprepared,” with no extra clothing and no way to stay dry in their tent (no rain fly).

 “These hikers said they did not understand why it was so cold and rainy in Colorado, because it has been ‘so hot in Texas’ where they hike all the time,” the team said. “They never checked any weather forecasts and did not have any extra food, water or layers for the intense hike in or the night to camp.”

 To make matters worse (if that’s possible), the couple had spoken to SAR crews twice on their hike up. Showing signs of extreme fatigue, the hikers denied any assistance to and from Lake Como.

 “This is an extreme example of how ignorance can kill people suddenly in these mountains,” AVSAR said.

 Ron Corkish, president of La Plata County Search & Rescue, said the last egregious call he remembers was last summer, when two men left their home in Florida on a Saturday morning, landed in Durango and took an Uber to the top of Molas Pass. Within 6-8 hours, the pair went from sea level to 10,000 feet with the intention of mountain biking to Moab. A few hours into their journey, however, they called emergency dispatch and said they were “done.” 

“We said, ‘Done? What does done mean?’” Corkish said.

 Eventually, SAR crews met up with the couple behind Purgatory and showed them the way out.

 “They didn’t do a lot of research and no conditioning,” he said. “That’s one where they just didn’t pay attention.” 

So far, Corkish said SAR teams have been relatively quiet this summer in Southwest Colorado (knock on wood). People new to the backcountry can use this checklist from American Hiking Society: https://bit.ly/3y2MUIq

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