Storm wreaks havoc on hunters, plows

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— A sudden winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on Routt County over the weekend stranded hunters and stalled travelers, prompting a hectic response from state patrolmen, snowplows and search and rescue crews.

About the only adults that were having fun in the snow were cross country skiers on Rabbit Ears Pass. Highway snowplow crews and skiers flocked to a new forest XC trail Sunday morning. Highway workers, not a ski bum among them, were not part of the rush to the trail.

Just about everyone else was in a hurry to get away from the deep snow.

“It’s sure bringing hunters out of the woods,” said James Cowen, highway maintenance supervisor for this region.

Some couldn’t get out of the woods. The Routt County Search & Rescue squad rescued four hunters Sunday through Tuesday.

Rabbit Ears pass was shut down at 3:15 a.m. Monday and didn’t reopen for seven hours. The pass wasn’t closed at all last year, and this one one of the earliest closures of any winter season, said Cowan, with winds posing a major factor.

The decision to close the pass came after two snowplows were stuck. One went off the road when 40 mph wind-gusts caused poor visibility.

A second snowplow driver ditched it when a vehicle came at him as he was trying to get around one of the four semis that slid sideways on U.S. 40 and blocked traffic.

“That’s when we decided to shut it down - we couldn’t see anything and it was so slick underneath the snow”, said Cowen.

State patrolmen reported 10 car accidents of more than $1,000 in damage and/or injuries over the weekend. Brian Bagley said about half were caused by bald tires.

While hunters simply stranded by snow covered roads were on their own, others were lost in the woods and needed immediate help.

Monday, Routt County Search & Rescue crews were looking for three lost hunters at the same time within a 10-mile radius, something S&R chief Bill Keller described as an unusual occurrence.

Traditionally, if a hunting season starts off with bad weather, hunters seem more prepared and Search & Rescue gets fewer calls, Keller said. But when it starts with warm, sunny weather like it did this year, hunters commonly get lost when a big storm hits.

“There’s probably people (lost) out there but we don’t even know about,” speculated S&R official Guy Loughridge.

An Alaskan hunter, causing worries because of a history of heart surgery and the 260 pounds he carries on his 5’6” frame, was found Tuesday afternoon in the Quaker Mountain area north of Hayden. Andy Geoit was last seen by hunting companions about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and friends reported him missing around midnight the same day.

Geoit, 48, of Anchorage, was located at 1:36 p.m. by an Air Force helicopter crew just before they were going to call it quits due to poor visibility. They had only been on the lookout for an hour when they found him about 1 ½ miles north of where he was last seen. Without a fire or food for two nights, Geoit was cold and hungry but OK. He wanted to go back to his camp, but the flight surgeon insisted he go to Routt Memorial Hospital for a check-up.

At least twenty people were searching for Geoit Tuesday, utilizing Air Force helicopters, snowmobiles, skiers and dog teams.

“Nobody in our crew got more than a couple hours of sleep last night,” Keller said.

Another hunter, Greg Smith of Minden, Nev. Was found by Search & Rescue crews about 2:30 p.m. Monday after searching for 26 hours. The call that he was lost came in about midnight Sunday, just 10 minutes before the call on the Alaska hunter came in.

Smith was found at the north end of California Park near Sugarloaf Mountain north of Hayden, about 5 ½ miles from where he should have been, Keller said.

I the wee hours of the Sunday morning, crews were called to look for two hunting companions that became separated and lost in extreme northern Routt County the day before.

Both men were found late Sunday afternoon in Wyoming, a few miles north of the Routt County line, said Keller. James Miller, 28, and Micheal Allen, 28, both of Denver, were located about 4p.m. and 6 p.m. respectively. More than 20 people and a helicopter were involved in that search.

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