A search and rescue operation ended Sunday morning after two hikers spent the night in the mountains around Vallecito Lake.
According to Tom Brueckner, vice president of La Plata County Search and Rescue, a 39-year-old male and a 27-year-old female – both local to the area – were found around 10 a.m. near the Vallecito Creek trailhead.
Brueckner said the lost party had driven ATVs up to Endlich Mesa, between Florida and Vallecito creeks, and then headed out on foot toward City Reservoir to the north.
The couple then planned to hike down Fall Creek toward the Vallecito Creek trail head, where a jeep and trailer were previously parked. They intended to go back to Endlich Mesa to pick up the ATVs.
However, Brueckner said the couple, who started out just before noon Saturday, underestimated the distance and difficulty of the area, which is dense with vegetation and hard to navigate.
As the couple realized they were not going to make it to the Vallecito Creek trail head before dark, they were able to attain cellphone service and call a friend, Brueckner said.
The friend was able to get coordinates of the couple’s location, but lost connection with them at about 9:30 p.m. Around 10 p.m., the friend attempted to hike up Fall Creek to find the couple, but gave up after two hours. He then hiked down and called 911 around 2 a.m.
Brueckner said four search and rescue teams, consisting of about 16 members, responded at 7 a.m. Sunday, with a helicopter on standby. The couple was found in “good spirits” with no injuries about three hours later.
Brueckner said the couple did not have camping gear. They did, however, have a lighter and were able to build a fire.
“Luckily they were able to make a fire, but other than that they were not all that prepared,” he said. “This is a good time to remind people that cell phones don’t work all the time in the high country, and to be prepared for the unforeseeable, particularly when you have to camp over night.”