Cellphone call helps Search and Rescue find stranded snowmobilers on Buffalo Pass

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Backcountry survival pack

Plan to head out into the backcountry? Local experts urge you to be prepared. Routt County Search and Rescue veteran Darrel Levingston suggests the following kit:

■ Waterproof/windproof matches and lighter

■ Various fire starters: Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, hand sanitizer, liquid gel

■ Small folding saw

■ Map and compass, and (optionally) a GPS device

■ Basic first aid kit (including antiseptic wipes, 2-inch-by-2-inch sterile pads, medical tape, Benadryl tablets)

■ Water bottle and water purification tablets or water filter system

■ Two reflective emergency blankets or reflective tarps

■ Energy bars, trail mix, power gels, cacao packets

■ Tin cup with insulated handle for warming snow or water

■ Warm hat and gloves, wool socks, fleece vest, rain coat and pants

■ Multi-tool (Leatherman type), duct tape (small amount), 15 to 20 feet of lightweight rope

■ Headlamp with extra batteries

■ Sunscreen

■ Two days’ supply of essential prescribed medications

■ Cell phone (keep this close to your body to keep the battery warm)

Also: Always tell someone where you are going and when you’ll return and/or leave an itinerary on the front seat of your car.

— A team of seven members of Routt County Search and Rescue came to the aid of three stranded snowmobilers at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday below the summit of Buffalo Pass, where their machines had become stuck in deep snow.

None of the three — all men ages 28 or 29 from Summit County — were injured or suffering medical emergencies, but Search and Rescue incident commander Russ Sanford said it was a teaching opportunity.

“They were not very well prepared and their clothes were wet, but they had food and water and they had a cellphone, which was huge,” Sanford said. “But because they did not have the ability to build a fire and were wet and getting cold, they would have had a pretty tough night.”

The snowmobilers kept one machine running with its headlight on, helping the rescuers locate them, Sanford said. Veteran members of the team said snowmobiling conditions were difficult in the area, he added. The stranded men were situated very close to a point on U.S. Forest Service Road 306 about 1 mile southwest of Summit Lake where the road crosses the North Fork of Fish Creek.

The snowmobilers, who were not using their machines to ski or snowboard, told their rescuers they had become stuck several times during the day but had been able to extricate themselves, Sanford said. When they found themselves truly stuck with no more than two hours of daylight left, they decided to call for help. They didn’t have a GPS, but they did have a cellphone.

Backcountry recreationists should carry a handheld GPS and a map, Sanford said, but at least in Routt County, where there is sometimes a cellphone signal, that ubiquitous device can facilitate a rescue.

“Here in Routt County, dispatch can triangulate the cellphone signal pretty precisely, but not in (neighboring) Moffat or Jackson counties,” Sanford said. “We plotted their location on the map, and I called them back a second time to confirm. At that point, in our minds, they’re no longer lost, but in their minds they are.”

He said the stranded men were plainly worried about their situation.

Sanford said fire-starting materials, a good collapsible saw, a metal cup and a tarp-style space blanket are essential survival tools for people who put themselves in a position to potentially spend the night outdoors in winter.

The saw should be bigger than those built into knives and multi-tools, Sanford said, so that it’s possible to cut dead tree limbs as big in diameter as a man’s forearm. That allows stranded parties to build a fire that doesn’t need constant tending and might even allow them to get some sleep.

The space blanket should be more substantial than the flimsy foil version — more like a tarp with grommets so that it can be used to build a windscreen.

The steel cup allows victims to brew a hot drink.

“If you can get out of the wind and drink hot fluids next to a fire, you can survive almost any kind of conditions here in Routt County,” Sanford said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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