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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We were staying at a backcountry hut, one guy got lost, we called 911, Vail Mountain Rescue responded, and found him.

He got split from his group of 4 coming through trees. He was 1/4 mile from the hut and overnight snow made tracks easy to follow. No other tracks but ours and he still got lost. More below on his mistakes.

His group got back at 11:30am. We started searching at 1pm. At 2:15 pm, we called 911, who forwarded us to Vail Mountain Rescue dispatch. Dispatch said they would have someone there soon and told our group leader that the best thing we could do to help them was to get everyone back to the hut.

We got everyone back to the hut. After serious discussion of last known location, where we had scoured, and where fresh tracks after overnight snow led, we were pretty clear the lost guy was down a thickly forrested gully. Our careful search had elimated all other possibilities. We called dispatch at 3:30pm and relayed the information. Their response: "it is very unlikely he went that way".

More serious discussion: same conclusion. We called dispatch at 4:00pm and relayed the information. Dispatch said "no", and the rescue team will be there soon and our two strongest guys should be ready to go when the team arrived.

Rescue showed up at 7:30pm! Our frustration at the late arrival quickly evaporated when we saw how professional they were. They were clearly ready and capable of searching all night for our friend.

After a 5 minute discussion, the rescuers agreed with our conclusion. They found him in 20 minutes because the lost guy had finally retraced his steps. Because of total darkness, he had built a snow cave 1/4 mile from the hut. He was in the cave for 2 hours, which took him 30 minutes to build. He was fine.

Vail Mountain Rescue accepted our offer of Paelle & Gingerbread and left. It was kind of funny that you make a phone call, these impressive professional guys show up, solve the problem, and split. No paper work. Kind of like calling Batman.

We felt guilty that they had mobilized 8 people and 4 snowmobiles for 7 hours, 3pm-10pm. We are greatful that if our friend had stayed in the gully, they would have found him and taken care of him. We have no problem with them showing up at 7:30--it clearly takes time to get ready for serious situations.

If we had been out waiting at the top of the gully, we would have found him 4:00-5:00pm and saved Vail Mountain Rescue time and money. We may have carefully sent our two or three strongest down the thickly forrested gully for a short ways. We weren't equiped to spend the night.

Questions:
Instead of dispatch telling us to return to the hut, wouldn't it have been better to say something like "make sure the search doesn't create an additional victim", or "make sure all search is done in teams with reliable communication, clear route finding, and ability to return by dark with margin for error". Yea, we might be idiots, but you can only do so much to protect people from themselves.

Why did dispatch give us the impression rescuers were coming around 4:30pm? Isn't clear communication important in these situations?


Clear mistakes:
The guy who got lost did some real stupid things: he didn't have a radio/phone/map/gps; split off his group of 4 people; when following tracks back to the hut he took a wrong turn and started breaking trail but kept going; after following a road he suddenly turned into a deep gully with thick trees; when he got to a mystery trail head after 4 miles/3 hours skiing at 2pm he turned around to come back up with little chance of finding the hut before sunset.

Perhaps his group members should have waited, but with the hut 1/4 mile away and easy tracks to follow, they regrouped in the hut.

To his credit:
He built a good snow cave. And when he built his snow cave 30 feet off the trail, he crossed his skis over the trail so night searchers easily found him.

I think our friend did make major goofs, but hindsight is 20/20 and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. My weaknesses are in other areas. I'm better but I'm more likely to put myself in a dangerous situation.
 

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He didn't retrace his own tracks? The terrain around Eismann, if this is where it occurred is pretty straightforward...also I would never listen to s&r if they told me to go back and quit searching for my friend...I can evaluate the hazards around me way better than a person who isn't in the area. Also, the majority of the people I go on hut trips with are competent and could easily have pulled off a search operation safely and efficiently, thats why I go with them. Thanks for posting, its always interesting to read about how things go down in different situations, I'm glad everyone was ok!
 

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Glad everything turned out okay. Your friend did a lot of things right once he realized he was lost - kudoes. Regarding your questions about the guidance you got from the SAR team, have you had a post-rescue meeting with them to discuss? Every SAR team I've been a part of or worked with has been keenly interested in backcountry user education (Preventive Search and Rescue), so I'm guessing they'd love to sit down and explain their perspective over beer or coffee.
 

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It's pretty simple actually, you called SAR due to a lost skier, they do not want any extra victims. When calling into dispatch they do not know what you or your group capabilities are, and since you are calling in for a lost skier SAR's best guess is that your group might not be strong enough to pull off the rescue. If you were strong enough to pull of the rescue you would not have called SAR.


The second part of this is they also do not want to be following around extra tracks that a disorganized party will lay down.

Yes, it does take time for them to get there, you are in the backcountry, they are volunteers that were at home with friends and family. They had to leave what ever else they were doing, get dressed, grab their packs, drive to the rescue hut, organize more gear, drive to the trailhead, gear up and then ski into your area.

I am glad that you had a good outcome to this, I also hope you now have a greater appreciation to what backcountry actually means, and for the awesome volunteers of your local SAR team.

This is a good reminder to all who go into the backcountry that you are the best help your partners or others have.
Get educated, WFR, Avy Class, SRT, that way you can handle the situation.
Carry a means to communicate to the outside world, cell phones don't always work, get a SPOT, PBIRB, Sat phone.

Think about and discuss with your group your overall plans and ambitions for the trip and what to do if it does not go as planned.

All of this does not matter whether you are skiing or boating, for example we all love to get into bailey, it is a great remote front range run. Think about if something happens in their your group can't handle, I have no idea how long it would take for a trained swiftwater team to get in there, I would bet it would either be Golden or Summit County.

Sorry for the long rambling rant.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Isn't there a middle ground between us NOT calling SAR and trying to pull off the rescue ourselves and us calling SAR and waiting on our hands for 5 hours of daylight while waiting for SAR to show up at night?
 

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Why aren't whistles considered to be an essential part of backcountry gear? It's so easy to get separated in trees.
 

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It is amazing to me that folks will spend $1000 bucks on bc ski's, boots, avy gear, and the lot but will not spend $50 on a "bubba" radio that will let you communicate with your group.. From what you said a $50 radio would have solved your problem very quickly..

We access stuff a bit differently than most but the way we see it is that a simple wal mart or bubba radio can be just as important as any other piece of rescue gear you can carry.

If you are in the bc and dont have a radio you are not as prepared as you should be..
 

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The one major mistake was the group splitting up. It is everyones' responsibility to make sure all members are accounted for. Had you followed this basic rule, all your other points would quickly become moot.
 

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Whistle!

Why aren't whistles considered to be an essential part of backcountry gear? It's so easy to get separated in trees.
Agreed. Getting lost in Colorado is not too difficult. Getting lost in a place like Wisconsin is easier than getting wet by pissing in the wind. The only time in my life I got separated in the middle of the day and completely lost. It was fixed in 5 min with a whistle. You can be 5 feet off the trail and totally invisible in many situations and a whistle becomes your best friend.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Yea, yea, yea, as I said in my original post, the guy really goofed.

But, we all have our faults. If we start laying down too many rules, they may not let me skin up that peak even if I have radio, whistle, common sense, etc.

I wouldn't kayak with him, but a hut trip isn't as intense.
 

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Sorry I wasn't trying to lay any blame or faults just trying to give a real view of why the dispatcher told you to stay put and why it took sar that long to get to you.

Your buddy messed up but he also did some things right, like staying put, building a shelter and leaving his skis on the trail.
 

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Agreed. Getting lost in Colorado is not too difficult. Getting lost in a place like Wisconsin is easier than getting wet by pissing in the wind. The only time in my life I got separated in the middle of the day and completely lost. It was fixed in 5 min with a whistle. You can be 5 feet off the trail and totally invisible in many situations and a whistle becomes your best friend.
What does Wisconsin have to do with this? Just a curious ex-cheesehead:-D

Ever hear about the guy that would go beserk if anyone said snickers, Mars or Wisconsin?
 

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In my eyes the whole group goofed in not being prepaired. As a group people need to watch each others back to make sure this does not happen. sar did the best thing by telling you all to stay put in the hut because does not sound like anyone was ready or had the skills to do there own search. Like someone already said it takes time for the sars group to get ready and hike up to where you were at. But when they do reach you there are on their game and will do their best to find your lost person. I am very happy to hear that everyone made it home safe. Oh one more thing is I wont go with anyone that says I have to many rules about safty. If I get lost I want people to find my dumb ass or I want to be able to find some other missing person
 

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In my eyes the whole group goofed in not being prepaired. As a group people need to watch each others back to make sure this does not happen.
I second that. It is a great attempt to place the blame on him, but anyone with some backcountry savvy will quickly point out that the "fault" lies with all 4 in that group, not just him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I think you are partially right that the whole group goofed. But, with fresh snow, all tracks leading to the hut, good weather, and being only 1/4 mile away through a clearing, I guess they thought they would wait in the hut. You guys sure you wouldn't have made that choice?

Even if they had waited at the bottom of the trees, the guy would probably still have been lost and they probably wouldn't have caught up with him before he went into the steep gully. These things are often not cut and dry.
 

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I think you are partially right that the whole group goofed. But, with fresh snow, all tracks leading to the hut, good weather, and being only 1/4 mile away through a clearing, I guess they thought they would wait in the hut. You guys sure you wouldn't have made that choice?

Even if they had waited at the bottom of the trees, the guy would probably still have been lost and they probably wouldn't have caught up with him before he went into the steep gully. These things are often not cut and dry.
With the fresh snow argument how is it you weren't able to retrace and find him? His should be the only divergent tracks.

Weird scenario. I wasn't there but it seems like maybe the SAR call was premature. Although with the response time maybe not. Your group came back together and rethought the process, and did a much better job of pinpointing his location.

Another vote for radios though. I don't use them all the time, but nearly any BC where visibility is expected to be lost we use them. They are light and cheap, and help so much with everything from essential communication to whats the snow feel like, or better line beta from the bottom.
 

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This whole thing "smells", (pun intended) like a little bit of weed might be involved. I think (not trying to speak for you, but..) that Basil wanted people to know that the point of the story is shit happens, and that shit especially happens in very unassuming situations. Its kind of like losing a kid in the mall. It doesn't cross your mind until its already happened. Do you need to tie your kid to you, buy him a radio a whistle, and teach him how to use a short wave radio... probably not. While a whistle or radio aren't bad ideas, I also don't feel you need them in a lot of situations and its nice to keep gear to a minimum. I am sure that many would think a compass, topo map and a pair of skins would be more helpful. I think the moral of the story is keep an eye on your spacy friends and be careful out there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Weed wasn't involved, only basil and a bit of rosemary at dinner.

Yes, shit happens. We were a group of 15. Some of us strong and outdoor smart, some less so. I accept the whole group.

We did retrace his steps easily to the thick forrested gully. A few people went down. It was hairy. But, the guy just thought the hut was ahead down hill and kept going. Our searchers didn't keep following.

We called SAR because we couldn't keep following. It turns out that since he kept going, if our searchers kept following, they may have ended up in the snow cave with him. But, with radio.

We weren't absolutely sure they were his tracks at first. There was a chance he was still stuck in a tree well in the trees. We were sure they were his tracks only after we regrouped and asked if the tracks to the gully were anyone else's, was there a chance someone else not with our group was up here, and after we carefully scoured the trees above where he split off.

Carefully scouring the trees took a bit of effort. There were perhaps 8 tracks through the trees and we followed everyone to make sure he wasn't in a tree well. We saw him at the top of the trees, he wasn't in the trees, at the bottom of the trees the tracks went either to the hut or down the gully. The tracks down the gully had his ski type and the careful gradual zig-zag is how he skis downhill.
 
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