Injured hunter rescued in ‘spectacular’ mission |

Injured hunter rescued in ‘spectacular’ mission

Brent Boyer

— An injured hunter was rescued from a steep cliff face in the Walton Creek drainage on Sunday night in what Routt County Search and Rescue members are calling one of the organization's more memorable missions.

Two Steamboat Springs hunters left Saturday for a day of elk hunting and parked their vehicle at Fox Curve on Rabbit Ears Pass. The men got lost during their outing, and one of them called his wife to say they'd be home either later that night or early Sunday morning. When Sunday morning arrived and there were still no sign, or word, from the men, the wife called Routt County Search and Rescue.

Incident Commander Kristia Check-Hill was starting to put a couple of search teams together at about noon Sunday when one of the missing men was able to again reach his wife by cell phone. He told her they were coming down what they thought was the Walton Creek drainage, Check-Hill said Monday. The Walton Creek drainage is best known as the dramatic box canyon in the back of Storm Mountain Ranch near the base of Rabbit Ears Pass.

Two Search and Rescue volunteers went to the end of the road in Storm Mountain Ranch, where one of the missing hunters emerged to meet them at about 2 p.m. His friend, he told Search and Rescue, was still on the cliff face about 35 to 40 minutes away.

Remarkably, the hunters had descended — without ropes or other technical outdoor equipment — the approximately 600-foot face of the snow- and ice-covered cliff walls and dangerously steep slopes of the canyon. But the man still trapped on the cliff had taken a tumble and seriously injured his wrist. It was on a ledge about 100 feet from the base of the canyon that he decided he could no longer continue down, Check-Hill said.

The Search and Rescue ropes team, led by veteran member Russ Sanford, made it to the stranded man at about 6 p.m. Placing anchors in the rock as well as using nearby trees, members of the ropes team set up a lowering system to rappel the injured man down the cliff.

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Sanford said the man was patient, strong and in surprisingly good condition considering his 24-hour ordeal. The man, whose name was not released, and the members of the ropes team were down from the cliff by 8 p.m. A difficult walk to safety, which included trekking over two snow-covered boulder and talus fields, eventually led the group back to their vehicles. The injured man walked out on his own and was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center by his wife so his wrist injury could be examined, Check-Hill said.

Sanford and Check-Hill, both of whom have spent many years with the all-volunteer Search and Rescue team, described Sunday's mission as one of their most memorable.

"It was spectacular, to say the least," Check-Hill said. "What our team had to climb up to get him was unbelievable.

"It could have been way worse than it ended up," she continued. "It's one of those missions where you go, 'Wow, we made a difference.'"

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