A search and rescue mission remained underway late Friday in the San Juan Mountains outside Silverton for someone who was swept away in a high-alpine creek while Jeep touring the backcountry.
DeAnne Gallegos, spokeswoman for San Juan County’s Office of Emergency Management, said a group on Thursday was traveling over Stony Pass (Forest Service Road 520), a high-alpine route that connects Silverton and Creede primarily used by Jeeps and off-road vehicles.
The group, traveling back from Silverton, was forced to cross Pole Creek. While in the middle of the relatively small but fast stream, the Jeep stalled, officials say, and one of the occupants was swept away.
The incident happened on the border of Hinsdale and San Juan counties in the Rio Grande National Forest. Ultimately, Hinsdale County took the lead in the search.
Hinsdale County public information officer Sandy Hines said authorities were alerted around 8:30 p.m. Thursday that someone was swept down Pole Creek and a search mission commenced shortly after.
The search was ongoing as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, and unless the person is found, rescue operations will continue Saturday.
“Pole Creek is not huge, but it is very fast and (at this time of year) very high,” Hines said. “And of course, everything this year is above what it normally is.”
Neither spokeswomen were able to identify the people involved or any other details surrounding the incident as of Friday afternoon.
Rivers and streams rising in the high country of the San Juan Mountains is a mounting concern for public safety, Gallegos said.
A lot of snowpack remains in the high country, and as people venture into the mountains, there’s an increased risk of encountering strong flows in waterways.
Waters tend to rise in the evening, after the day’s snowmelt, another factor that may have played a role in Thursday’s incident.
“It (the water) might be low in the morning and could be completely different in the evening, so it’s important to know the time of day,” Gallegos said.
In a separate incident, emergency personnel in Mineral County were searching for a man whose boat flipped on the Rio Grande River. As of Friday afternoon, the missing person, Zach Jones of Creede had not been found.
Officials in Mineral County shut down the Rio Grande River to recreation until further notice.