The night of September 28th 2019, a call for help went out that was answered by Summit County Rescue Group. Unsure of the exact details, Flight for life was added to the incident to help locate possible injured parties that were offroading near Santa Fe Peak, just outside of Montezuma, Colorado. The reporting parties were found uninjured, but stuck at the end of the road when their Ford Expedition slid off the trail while trying to turn around, and had gone downhill far enough to be unable to return to the trail under its own power. It was sitting at such an angle that the fuel level in the tank ran the pump dry and the vehicle stalled.
After being extracted by Summit County Rescue Group, the vehicle owner was referred to Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery to get the vehicle back off the mountain. The dispatch team determined after taking the initial call and details, that it would be appropriate to send a scout team up first to build a proper recovery plan vs a team arriving in the blind. A typical Ford Expedition is approximately 5000 pounds, but add in the stuck forces of 4 tires sunk in scree, a 40 to 45 degree angle, this load quickly jumps to 10,000 to 13,000 pounds of recovery force.
On Sunday October 6th, this recovery plan was executed with 2 teams rolling out at different strategic times. Team 1 did the initial recovery rigging and began winching, while team 2 arrived as relief later in the morning. 10 total rigs, 13 responding members, and 7 planning members/scout team spent 11 hours and 18 minutes at 13,000 feet rigging and recovering this Expedition. Bear in mind effective oxygen at this altitude is just over 70% of normal. It was encouraged to rest when you knew you needed to. This takes a toll on your body quite rapidly exerting yourself at these elevations. Part of the recovery plan was a rapid evac vehicle staged to get members off the mountain in the event signs of altitude sickness presented itself.
Total man hours, including dispatch monitoring time to and from the incident, is estimated at just shy of 248 hours. Using the 2019 national volunteer labor rate, this operation is valued at $6,306 in labor alone, before even trying to factor in miles on vehicles, fuel costs, meals etc.
Equipment used to recover the expedition:
- 1000 feet of winch line was on hand (500 to 700 feet used)
- 2 winched vehicles were used (12,000 and 10,000 pound rated winches)
- 5 anchor vehicles to stabilize the 2 winch vehicles
- 3 pulley blocks
- Several X-Locks
- Dozens of soft and hard shackles
- Multiple shovels
- Climbing rope for navigating the scree field
The vehicle was recovered just about sundown Sunday the 6th, and all members were off the mountain about an hour later, and the last to return home for the night was just before Midnight.
Remember when traveling in the back country, have an emergency kit including food, water, shelter, extra clothing (warm gear especially this time of year), and multiple means to communicate. Cell phones often work at elevation in the mountains, but Ham Radio, FRS, CB, even a good old whistle to get someone’s attention nearby. Yelling is exhausting!