Updated December 11, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version. The three people who were the subject of the search Thursday morning included two men and one woman.
Three Oak Creek residents walked their way to safety early Thursday after becoming lost between Pinnacle Peak and Dunkley Pass in eastern Rio Blanco County.
The two men and a woman called the Routt County Communications Center at about midnight Wednesday, and eight Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers were on scene sby 2 a.m. Thursday to look for the lost party via snowmobiles and four-wheelers.
Although searchers spent hours in temperatures that dipped as low as minus 20 degrees, the trio was able to find a farmhouse at about 10 a.m. Thursday.
The three people in the truck, identified by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office as Cameron Willardson, 20, Kamber Spore, 18, and Aron Gilberath, 19, apparently left their truck near where Routt County Road 29 crosses Fish Creek and began to hike up a hill to gain cell coverage.
Routt County Search and Rescue spokesman Darrel Levingston said searchers received conflicting reasons about why the trio left their vehicle — either it was stuck or it had run out of gas. They also said they had a private-land, deer-hunting tag, but it was unclear if they were planning on hunting at the time. Levingston said by the time the three reached the top of the hill, they became disoriented and were unable to return.
They were able to call the dispatch center just once before they lost cell phone service.
“We usually don’t go out at night to do searches,” Levingston said, “but considering the weather and that the party was inadequately dressed, we thought here was life-or-limb danger.”
Searchers continued looking until 5 a.m., when they returned to the Search and Rescue barn in Steamboat to recover from the extreme cold and eat breakfast. Levingston said one searcher reported the beginnings of frostbite, despite wearing appropriate clothing. The searcher did not require medical treatment. By 7:30 a.m. the team began searching again.
Steamboat Springs-based Zephyr Helicopter Company sent a pilot and searcher into the air for at least an hour Thursday morning and were able to follow the lost group's tracks from the air before eventually receiving word the hikers made it to safety.
Levingston said the Oak Creek residents built three fires along the way, using the wood available at one site before moving to the next. They were wearing snow boots, jeans, heavy jackets and heavy hats. They did not require medical attention.
Sheriff’s Office evidence technician and spokeswoman Mellisa Baumgartner said deputies interviewed the three people and that it’s unlikely any criminal charges would be filed.
Phone numbers for the three could not be located Thursday.