A Montrose man was found wet and miserable but unhurt after a two-day search in impassable conditions and extreme weather over the weekend northwest of Durango.
The 55-year-old man, whose name was not released, walked out Sunday. He had gone out with a friend Friday to survey old mining claims in the Elk Creek drainage at the headwaters of Junction Creek. They were reported missing around midnight Friday after failing to return before dark as planned.
Eighteen members of La Plata County Search and Rescue launched a search early Saturday centered 14 miles up Junction Creek Road. After one of the men made his way out that morning, search and rescue found him at his vehicle.
“The two had become lost on the densely covered slopes,” said Butch Knowlton, director of the La Plata County Office of Emergency Management. “They were able to start a campfire and spent the night in the rain. The two separated early in the morning.”
Using the first man’s GPS, searchers found the camp where the two men spent the night.
“They were hampered by impassable terrain and inundated by heavy rain, hail and fog,” Knowlton said. “Knowing the man had minimal gear and no ability to start a fire, success the first day was deemed critical. Several volunteers stayed overnight on the mountain in case the subject found his way out.”
Harold Luzar gave search and rescue workers permission to use the buildings at his Neglected Mine, so the teams had shelter and heat.
“Being able to build a fire in the stove and having a warm, dry place to go to made all the difference because we couldn’t get our vehicles in,” Knowlton said. “It hailed and rained, hailed and rained.”
Sunday morning, K-9 units were brought in and quickly found the scent in Elk Creek. Just after noon, searchers were able to make voice contact with the missing man, eventually locating him 2¼ miles down the canyon.
“He was awfully wet,” Knowlton said. “He made the comment that he had crossed the stream 30 times. There was no place to land a helicopter, so we gave him warm clothing and hot food, and soups really revived him.”
Over the next seven hours, rescuers walked the man out. His name has not been released because there was some confusion with notifying his family. He had a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Fund card, which will allow the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office to apply for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses such as the Mercy Flight for Life helicopter, which was in the air as weather allowed to assist in the search.
“The success of this mission was only possible due to the dedication and countless hours of training put in by the volunteers of search and rescue,” Knowlton said. “The specialized training and constant work put in by our K-9 team, both dogs and handlers, was the key to saving this man’s life.”