UPDATED: Rocky Mountain National Park Closed By Ongoing Storms, Climbers Walk Out From Longs Peak
Editor's note: This updates with the two women climbers managing to walk off the mountain and to safety.
An unrelenting storm system Friday forced the closure of Rocky Mountain National Park, where rangers were escorting visitors out of the park, while two hikers initially reported to be stranded near the top of 14,259-foot Longs Peak were able to walk out on their own.
The two climbers, identified as employees of NEMO Equipment of Dover, N.H who were testing some of the outdoor gear company's gear in the park, were said to be holed up in a yellow tent on the South Ridge of the mountain by an ice and snow storm.
While there were media reports that a helicopter would try to drop food and other supplies to the two women, National Park Service officials said they were not asked to send a helicopter, and conditions would have prevented a flight anyway.
Poor communications due to the storm hampered the information flow out of the park, but around 12:30 p.m. word came that the two women had managed to walk off Longs Peak and down to Wild Basin south of Estes Park.
“They are in fine condition, and not injured," said Patrick O'Driscoll, a spokesman in the Park Service's Intermountain Regional Office during a phone call. "We are attempting to arrange transportation for them."
Down below Longs Peak, rangers were working to escort what few remaining visitors were left in the park in the wake of major rainfall in the park and flooding in neighboring Estes Park, Superintendent Vaughn Baker said.
They likely wouldn't go far, though, as Estes Park was isolated by the storm, which has closed off the highways leading out of the resort town.
Superintendent Baker said Trail Ridge Road, the route that connects the park’s east and west sides over a 12,183-foot summit, remained open but only to official and emergency traffic. But because rain and flooding have close all routes leading into Estes Park at the east entrance to the park, he said the park was allowing community residents who need to leave to use Trail Ridge Road to exit the area to the west.
“Our first priority is the well-being of all park visitors and staff,” Superintendent Baker said in a prepared statement. “The heavy rainfall and flooding of streams and creeks have saturated the soil and made movement in and around the park a significant safety concern. We hope to reopen as soon as the danger and disruption have passed.”
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The storm, which has knocked out roads, stranded residents and drenched much of Colorado’s urban Front Range and neighboring foothills communities for three days, also has left the park with only limited radio communications. Superintendent Baker said all employees inside the park have been accounted for, and some have been evacuated from their park housing as a further precaution.
The superintendent said the park was monitoring conditions at two small dams inside Rocky Mountain to ensure the safety of anyone downstream. The main dam of interest, at Lily Lake, was structurally repaired last fall under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Mr. O'Driscoll said rangers were checking on the safety and welfare of "several parties" of backcountry travelers, though he didn't have an exact count of how many park visitors might be in the backcountry.
Earlier Friday, word came that Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah near the Arizona border was closed because heavy rains had washed out the main trail leading from a dock on Lake Powell to the sacred arch.