Snowmobilers rescued after night in deep ravine | SteamboatToday.com
Joanna Dodder/Steamboat Pilot

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Snowmobilers rescued after night in deep ravine

— Two local snowmobilers were rescued Monday morning after spending a cold and wet night stranded in the backcountry about six miles east of Yampa.

Steve Butts, 25, and his room-mate in the Stagecoach subdivision, Kurt Birch, 24, were found about 8:20 a.m. by a dozen Routt County Search & Rescue team members.

"They were not in good shape when we got to them," said Joe Stevens, Search & Rescue incident commander. "They probably would not have made it through another night."

The men were snowmobiling Sunday with another Stagecoach resident, 29-year old Al Meyer. They headed south from Stagecoach along Green Ridge when they went down a heavily timbered and steep ravine near Muddy Slide.

"We missed the trail and got into a ravine and couldn't get back out," Birch told the Pilot. "It's a tough trail to find."

Birch said one of the trio accidentally went down the drainage and tried to warn the others to stay away, but they didn't see his warnings. The men told rescuers they had been looking for a trail to take over to the Lynx Pass area.

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When they realized they couldn't go back up the drainage, they tried for five or six hours to go down, attempting to lift a snowmobile over downed logs, but with no success.

At that point, Meyer decided to hike out. After trudging three miles in seven hours through snow 3-4 feet deep, sometimes using sticks and his helmet for support in the deep snow, he reached Morrison Creek Road about midnight and went to a nearby house to call for help. "He had quite a struggle," said Stevens.

Rescuers set up a command center near Stagecoach Reservoir and headed in about 3:30 a.m. on snowmobiles, snowshoes and skis. One group followed the snowmobile tracks, while another followed Meyer's foot tracks.

When the men were found five hours later in the drainage about a quarter-mile south of Muddy Slide, rescuers immediately lit a fire to warm them up while snow continued to fall. The cotton Carhart coveralls worn by the men were frozen, said Stevens, and they had little protection from clothes underneath.

After determining that the men were probably suffering from the initial stages of hypothermia, Search & Rescue personnel called DBS helicopter Service in Glenwood Springs to rescue them. The group worked its way down to a suitable landing site for the copter.

The men were flown to the Steamboat Springs airport where an ambulance was waiting, but they refused medical treatment.

One Search & Rescue member, Doug Allen, was injured during the search when he put his snowmobile on its side and tweaked a knee, reported sheriff's investigator Gary Sigman, who was also at the scene. Other members of the team were fine, but exhausted from the search.

The state will be paid for by the state because the men had snowmobile registrations. A 25 cent surcharge was recently attached to snowmobile licenses to pay for such search fees.

"Those sleds are probably in there for the duration of the season," said Stevens.

After about 12 hours of sleep, Stevens had some advice Tuesday for future snowmobilers in the Routt National Forest.

"Look before you leap," said Stevens. "They should not have gone down that slope and got into that mess in the first place."

Also, the men's cotton clothing was easily saturated and frozen in the snow. They did have insulated helmets, and they wore them through the night.

The men had only one lighter that apparently burned out, and they were unable to start a fire. Stevens noted that stranded snowmobilers in this situation could use gas from their machines and light it with a spark from a spark plug.

Backcountry users should always have several sources of fire with them, added Sigman.

"The best advice I can give people, especially if they're new to the area, is to contact Search & rescue for a list of survival gear, and take a classes on backcountry survival," added Sigman.