When a hiker who had ventured out to explore Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, last week did not return by the end of the day as planned, a person worried about their safety called authorities to report them missing.
First, emergency responders with the Lake County Search and Rescue team in Leadville, about 80 miles southwest of Denver, called the hiker’s cellphone, officials said.
The call was declined.
The rescue team kept trying, but repeated calls and texts to the hiker’s phone went unanswered. So, a team of at least eight launched a pair of hours-long searches only to be notified the hiker had safely returned to their lodging location the next day, the Sacramento Bee first reported.
The hiker, who authorities have not identified, told rescuers they had no clue anyone had been searching for them. Their phone had been buzzing, the hiker said, but they repeatedly declined the calls since they were coming from an unknown number.
The incident led the Lake County Search and Rescue to share a lesson for hikers.
“If you’re overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone; it may be a … team trying to confirm you’re safe!” the department said in a statement.
The case is among several recent close calls involving hikers in the state. Earlier this month, a family that had stopped to take a picture on a trail in the Rocky Mountains rescued an injured man who had fallen while hiking. On Saturday, rescuers saved a 74-year-old hiker found hanging by a tree. The woman, authorities said, fell about 30 feet down an embankment while she was walking along Bear Canyon Trail. The next day, a helicopter crew rescued a 20-year-old hiker who injured his right hip after slipping on a trail near Carbondale, Colo.
The Lake County Search and Rescue team did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Monday seeking additional details about the Mount Elbert hiker.
The hiker started climbing the peak around 9 a.m. on Oct. 18, officials said. The South Elbert Trail, which runs 5.8 miles long, is considered the “easiest” route to the 14,440-foot mountain named after the state’s former territorial governor and Colorado State Supreme Court Justice Samuel Hitt Elbert.
Snow, rain and lightning are common on the peak, and while no technical ability or special climbing experience is required to climb it, Forest Services warns that Mount Elbert’s altitude can affect the healthiest individuals.
Around nightfall, the hiker noticed he or she had lost track of the trail, they later told rescuers. The person then spent the night trying to find their way back.
At around 12 a.m., five members of the rescue team began searching an area of the mountain where they believed the person might found. After an unsuccessful three-hour hunt, the crew left the area to return later that morning, officials said.
At 7 a.m. on Oct. 19, three rescue members arrived at an area of the mountain were hikers commonly get lost, according to authorities. They searched for another three hours before they were notified that the hiker had found their way back to their car and safely arrived to their lodging – nearly 24 hours after they started the hike.
As some derided the situation on social media, the Lake County Search and Rescue team urged followers to be understanding.
“Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking,” department officials wrote. “In Colorado, most folks who spend time outdoors have a good understanding of the [search-and-rescue] infrastructure that is there to help them, but this is not the case nation-wide.”
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