An experienced mountaineer required a helicopter rescue off El Diente Peak July 10 after falling 600 feet and suffering injuries, reports Dolores County Search and Rescue.
The man, whose name was not released, had summited the 14,165-foot peak from the Kilpacker Trail and planned to traverse the exposed ridge to Mount Wilson.
Seeing that the ridge was too dangerous because of snow, the climber reportedly descended the mountain back to Kilpacker. He radioed his parents at the trailhead about his plans, then a few moments later slipped and fell 150 feet off a cliff into a snowfield. He then slid off a larger cliff.
“I fell a long time and landed in an avalanche chute,” the man said, according to the rescue report. “I lost my snowshoes, ice ax and some other gear and realized I was in some trouble and hurt.”
His injuries included a broken wrist, damaged knee, extensive bruising and a cut requiring stitches on his elbow.
Fortunately he carried a satellite GPS messenger and activated an emergency help signal about 2:30 p.m., said Keith Keesling, Captain of Dolores County Search and Rescue.
The signal was traced by the Dolores County Sheriff’s Department to the El Diente summit.
A search and rescue team from Rico were dispatched to the Kilpacker Trailhead, and the Flight for Life helicopter was called to the scene.
The helicopter located the man, who had decided to posthole down the avalanche chute in deep snow, Keesling said. But the helicopter could not immediately land at that altitude without losing some weight.
Flight for Life returned to Kilpacker Trailhead and off-loaded gear and personnel, then flew back to the victim and transported him to Mercy Regional Medical Center.
Coordinated communication assisted with the search and rescue, Keesling said.
Using data from the messenger, the International Rescue Coordination Center relayed family contact information to the rescuers.
The climber’s sister was contacted in northern Colorado, and she passed on a picture he had sent of him on the summit to aid rescuers.
Communication deep in the Lizard Head Wilderness between ground teams and the helicopter was also a technical challenge.
It was all accomplished via cellphone from Dove Creek to a dispatch center in Denver that then relayed instructions to the helicopter via satellite phone. Phone calls to Cortez dispatch relayed instructions to Rico search teams via radio.
“All agencies were at the top of their game, and all went as planned,” Keesling said.
El Diente was the 49th 14er the man summited.
“Even with skill, preparation, the right safety tools and experience, nature is a dangerous playground,” Keesling said. “Snow caused the fall, but the snow also saved his life. Such is luck.”
“He’s in good spirits, and was very thankful for the rescue,” Keesling added. He was pretty surprised about getting in the accident.”
Because the man had a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card, the cost of the rescue was covered.
Extraordinary snowpack this winter continues to linger in the high country, creating climbing hazards. During early morning ascents, the snow is firm, but it turns to unstable slush by afternoon.
Creeks on the approach also are running very high.
El Diente is considered one of the more difficult of the 54 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Keesling said that in recent years, two rescues per year have been conducted on the mountain.