Missing Crested Butte Hiker’s Body Found – 5 Safety Tips
After several months the remains of the missing hiker Sherri O. Ahlbrandt from Littleton, Colorado have been found near Middle Anthracite Creek in the Dark Canyon. This is a sad story, but perhaps a wake-up call to many that a simple hike can turn bad – and in this case the loss of life for a healthy capable woman hiker in the Crested Butte area. This could have been avoided if the hikers had followed some basic tips.
Crested Butte is a special place – and the vast mountain terrain offers awesome hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, paddling, back country skiing in the Winter. As a second-homeowner here in CB for 10 years and a full-time resident for nearly 6 years – I am not an expert, but I have spent countless hours in the wilderness in all seasons. I have competed and finished the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (40+ mile back country ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen that starts at midnight), and competed and finished the Texas Water Safari (260 mile canoe race from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Texas coast) both required different skills but were similar in that training, planning, navigating, survival, self-rescue, and first-aid Preparedness are key to completing the race and staying alive. I know local Crested Butte residents that have lived here and recreated here for years who got stranded or lost in the back-country and because of some preparation and knowledge they were able to spend the night and get out safely the next day (one was fishing in the very area the missing woman hiker’s body was found).
Here are the 5 Key Safety Tips to keep you and yours safe when hiking, biking, hunting, fishing or even skiing in the Crested Butte area wilderness.
1. Don’t Go Alone
2. Take a Pack with Necessary Stuff
3. Know the Terrain – Have a Map
4. Have a Plan – Tell Someone Where You Are Going – When You Will be Back
5. Be Prepared for the Worst
1. Don’t Go Alone – use the buddy system. It is always better to be with another person – usually two heads are better than one, and if one of you gets injured – the other can help with first-aid – and go for help. Stick together – in the case of the recent missing hiker – she was with 2 others, but when they decided to turn back, she continued on alone. It is not uncommon when hunting to separate – be sure that everyone knows when and where to meet at a certain time. Cell phone coverage is non-existent in the back country – it is wise to invest in two-way radios (have fresh batteries) and know how to use them.
2. Take a Pack with Necessary Stuff – This can be an endless list – and weight is usually a major consideration. Survival is more about being smart than what you have in your pack – there are probably 5 things you should have with you or in your pack at all times. 1. Water – Crested Butte is 8,800 feet above sea level – if you are recreating during the summer months, your fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed two quarts per hour if you bike/hike uphill in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Most people will not carry 2 quartz (64 ounces) of water. and 100 ounces of water weighs 8 pounds. The good news is there are many small streams, rivers, lakes, ponds or even snow that can be melted – get a water filtration system to keep in your pack or use iodine tablets (and hydrate before you start). 2. Fire Starter (with back-up) – If you are cold and wet a fire will warm you up and dry you off, it is also a comfort – especially if you will be stuck overnight, and can be used as a smoke signal for rescuers. A Bic lighter is good but may fail – waterproof matches are good, a Magnesium fire starting kit is good, PLUS a small ziplock bag with cotton balls soaked in vaseline or I like Coghlan’s Fire Paste. 3. Extra Layers – plan on rain – if you bring rain gear it won’t rain – if you don’t it will pour. A light rain shell is a must – rain pants are wise. It can get cold when the sun goes down and the wind comes up (and it rains). A back-up pair of socks and base layer are light and small and I always take these items. 4. Shelter – yes you can make a shelter or crawl in a hole – but if it starts raining now – you are screwed. Space Blankets are good these are small, light and can come in handy for shelter, ground cover, warmth. Other options are very light Bivvy Sacks or space blanket material tubes or tents that are light and will keep you out of the elements and keep you warm. 5. First Aid Kit – there are many choices and opinions about what should be in your first aid kit – buy one or build one or add to it with extra items – but have one in your pack. Other tips – I like adding duct tape around my water bottle, also some amount of parachute cord, a whistle (for each person). Food is not “necessary” to keep you alive for a day or so – but energy bars and Gu are always in my pack.
3. Know the Terrain – Have a Map and a compass – you may be going on a new hike or hunting in new terrain. Do a bit of prep work and buy a map of the area. The Aspen, Crested Butte and Gunnison Area Recreation Map is a great resource and good for each person to have in their pack (they are only $13). Use it – Actually look at the map with your other participants so everyone knows where you are, and where you are going. Additional planning can be done on-line using Google Maps, or better Google Earth. There are many destinations in the Crested Butte area that have very steep pitches or cliffs – navigating unknown territory in the dark is a bad idea. It will be colder in the valleys as the cold air settles in these areas, but water runs downhill and generally if you are lost if possible follow water and you will eventually find people or civilization. Climbing up high may give you cell coverage – and depending on your smartphone and what apps you have this can give you an exact latitude longitude of your location. As well being high can give you a perspective of where you are – where you need to go – or a feeling of hopelessness when all you see is unfamiliar terrain.
4. Have a Plan – Tell Someone Where You Are Going – When You Will be Back – this is simple but mostly overlooked. “We will be fine – no problem, simple hike…” make contact with someone you know will miss you if you don’t return. If you are mountain biking you could be miles away and if you break a chain or fall and injure yourself you may be delayed or stuck for the night. Give someone a specific time when you will be back – and a buffer as to when to alert authorities. Crested Butte Search and Rescue is made up of skilled volunteers and a great resource here in Crested Butte – but in general they will not go look for you at night, they will go the next morning. Be prepared to spend the night – alone. If you purchase a fishing or hunting license it includes a fee for rescue – if not you may be looking at big bucks when they do rescue you (which you will gladly pay).
5. Be Prepared for the Worst – Most times the worst is you are lost, it is dark, it is cold, you are probably wet from rain or sweat, and you will have to spend the night. But it may be that you also twisted an ankle, broke a bone, or had a serious accident. It is unlikely that your partner will be able to “carry you out” – so you may be stuck and you may be in pain. I have had the opportunity to float through the Gunnison Gorge and camp for 2 nights and fish. This is beautiful terrain and requires paddling skills to navigate class 3 and 4 rapids – it is possible that someone could be seriously injured and it may be 12-24 hours to get them out of the canyon depending on the situation and time of day. I take prescription meds in the first aid kit because I know that if I had a broken leg or dislocated shoulder I would want pain killers – just sayin’.
Winter – Skiing, snowshoeing in Crested Butte… There is always the threat of avalanches in the back country. Most visitors and second homeowners are not venturing into the backcountry with snowmobiles in search of fresh powder (but many locals do this) – but instead may find themselves nordic skiing out many of the county roads that are offer great opportunities in the winter. Before you go talk with someone about where you are going and the avalanche risks of that area – also go look on-line at the Crested Butt Avalanche center website for additional info (inquire about avalanche education/training). Buy a shovel and a probe, and a beacon – and know how to use it – and make sure your buddy knows how to use it (he will be the one trying to find you). Most times it is not easy to just “walk back” if you have a problem. You may be gliding on top of 3 feet of snow on your skinny skis – but if a ski binding breaks then you may be walking back 3 miles, post-holing in 3+ feet of snow – so you might re-think what is in your pack (or what is not in your pack).
Be smart, be safe, and have fun. 99% of the time everything will be fine and you or someone in your group will not have a problem. But be prepared – and if there is a problem, then you can deal with it and soon be home sitting in the hot-tub telling a great story.
List of Crested Butte businesses that are great resources:
The Alpineer – think local REI – they have gear, they have maps, they have knowledgeable people
Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association – Crested Butte Trail Maps, Crested Butte trail conditions, news…
Crested Butte Mountain Guides – maybe you should hire a guide for your group – they will lead you safely into and out of the back country
The Crested Butte Nordic Center – With over 50K of groomed trails you may not need to go further – they have equipment, instructors and knowledge of the area
The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce – wondering where to start, where to go, who to call, who to hire – they have all the answers plus maps and more – at the corner of the 4-way in downtown Crested Butte
Crested Butte Avalanche Center – Updated daily with snow conditions, and avalanche threat ratings. Be informed.
People often ask me “what makes Crested Butte special?” It is hard to put into words, but the wilderness in the Crested Butte area is part of the charm of Crested Butte for visitors, locals and second homeowners. There are plenty of luxury homes and high-end ski-in / ski-out condos at the base area, but unlike some of the other ski resort towns in Colorado that have their glitsy roots in gold and silver mining – Crested Butte was as a coal mining town. In many ways the character, the energy, and attitude of the early ranchers and miners has transcended time. In Crested Butte the outdoor recreational opportunities are endless, the scenery is awesome, and the people are warm, friendly and real.
Previews® Property Specialist
Coldwell Banker Bighorn Realty