Steamboat Springs Routt County Search and Rescue safely located a missing hunter in California Park on Thursday morning, after he spent all night in the snow without gear.
L.C. Williams, 73, had been hunting in the Quaker Mountain area Wednesday, about 15 miles north of Hayden. His wife called for help late Wednesday afternoon, after Williams' horse, still laden with most of his gear, returned to their family's nearby cabin without its rider.
Williams lives in Lodi, Calif., but he has family in Northwest Colorado and hunts regularly in the area. He became disoriented in bad weather and was unable to find his way back to the cabin, Search and Rescue Incident Commander Tim O'Brien said.
"He was hunting - I believe he even got an elk," O'Brien said.
But when Williams' shot went off, so did his horse, which spooked and ran. Snowy, socked-in conditions made Williams unable get his bearings on Quaker Mountain and hampered Search and Rescue's efforts to find him Wednesday night.
"In the nighttime, when you only have certain clues to go off of, it's always a needle in the haystack," Search and Rescue member Kristia Check-Hill said. Crews packed up for the night at about 1 a.m., she said.
"It was just a little too snowy, cold, to do any good," O'Brien said. "Of course we really hated to leave anyone out there, especially a 73-year-old.
"His provisions were on his horse, so we knew he didn't have any fire-starter, water or food."
The search crew knew Williams wasn't injured, because he had been in touch with his wife on a two-way radio.
"He was feisty enough to make it through the night," Check-Hill said.
Rescuers resumed their search early Thursday morning on the ground and in the sky - a crew from Steamboat's Zephyr Helicopters was able to sight Williams within about an hour. He safely was returned to his camp Thursday morning, O'Brien said.
"He pretty much just walked through the night and was pretty well disoriented. But other than that, he was in good condition," O'Brien said.
"He was cold, but fine," Check-Hill said. "And very appreciative."
O'Brien reminded outdoor enthusiasts to always keep basic survival supplies accessible, as well as a cell phone and GPS when available.
"If you are out in the backcountry hunting, or what have you, make sure you have some fire-starter, food and water, whether you think you're going to be out for five minutes or five hours," O'Brien said.