Rangers Resort To Backcountry "Boot Roast" To Help Lost Rocky Mountain National Park Hiker

Hiking in deep snow in Rocky Mountain National Park wearing leather boots, jeans, and cotton socks, was not smart. Rangers armed with a backpacking stove in their packs to thaw out the man's boots was.

The backcountry boot roast took place Wednesday night after rangers tracked down two lost hikers who had called for help via their cellphone. Park officials say the unnamed 23-year-old male and female, from out of state, had reached the summit of Flattop Mountain (12,324 feet elevation) and became lost when hiking back down.

While the rescue call came in around 4:30 p.m., it took search-and-rescue personnel until 8 p.m. to find the two above the “Banana Bowls” at an elevation of roughly 10,600 feet.

The two hikers did not have snowshoes or backcountry gear and were not prepared for the freezing temperatures or to be in the backcountry after dark. Due to “post-holing” in deep snow the man’s jeans, cotton socks and leather work boots were frozen solid when searchers found them. Rescuers used a backpacking stove to thaw the man’s boots so he could walk out.

"The two hikers did not have snowshoes or backcountry gear and were not prepared for the freezing temperatures or to be in the backcountry after dark," notes Rocky Mountain spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. "Due to 'post-holing' in deep snow, the man’s jeans, cotton socks and leather work boots were frozen solid when searchers found them. Rescuers used a backpacking stove to thaw the man’s boots so he could walk out."

Rangers and the two hikers reached the Bear Lake Trailhead about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.

"This search could easily have had a tragic ending and serves as an important reminder that preparedness is critical when exploring Rocky Mountain National Park," Ms. Patterson said in a release. "Frostbite and hypothermia present a clear and present danger. If going into the backcountry – visitors should plan their trip well and be prepared for the possibility of bitter cold winter conditions. Becoming lost or receiving a minor injury can be life threatening if not prepared, especially in winter."

At a minimum, park officials suggest that winter backcountry visitors carry water/ wind proof outerwear, a whistle, topographic map, compass, flashlight or headlamp, matches or other fire starter, extra high energy food and water, extra layers of clothing and insulation, emergency bivy sack, and a first aid kit. Adequate winter footwear is essential -- waterproof/ insulated footwear with gaiters and snowshoes are needed.

Comments

Terrible preplanning could have led to fatal results.

Always plan for the worst, and hope that later you'll not need it. They reached their goal of summiting the mountain, but The Goal should have been 'everybody back home safely [without needing rescue, of course].'

The lesson I learned in the Army was, as a leader, my mission was to bring every one of my troops back safely. Not enough people learn AND APPLY that lesson.

My mantra to avoid summit fever; "Getting up the mountain is optional. Getting down is mandatory."

How many times to people need to be advised/warned about the dangers and the necessary preparedness. It's this type of foolishness that costs a lot of money in rescue dollars. Everyone is happy this turned out for the best but is it going to take a ranger at each trailhead to turn idiots back if they're not prepared.

Cotton Kills. But not as much as ignorance.

" . . . is it going to take a ranger at each trailhead to turn idiots back if they're not prepared."

Even that doesn't work. Just ask the rangers who stand at the top of Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon trying to warn obviously unprepared hikers.

An entertaining tale is told on pages 144-145 of Andrea Lankford's book Ranger Confidential, Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks. In that case, the middle-aged man who resembled Jackie Gleason and came waddling down the path, sweating profusely and appearing to be just one cheeseburger away from a heart attack turned out to be . . . . .

(Sorry, you're gonna have to read the book to learn the rest of the story.)

A question that perhaps someone now serving in NPS can answer.

Is it still necessary for NPS rangers and other park personnel who serve on SAR teams to buy their own specialized clothing and gear for use on rescues? Or does the NPS supply it or provide reimbursement? That stuff can cost lots of money out of an employee's pocket.