GCSAR rescue

Photo Courtesy: Grand County Search and Rescue 

Crews from Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) were deployed to Caribou Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness on Friday to rescue a male hiker that was experiencing nausea, difficulty breathing, and was unable to walk. 

At about 12:46 AM, the hiker was reported to be around eight miles from the trailhead of Arapahoe Creek trail. Upon arrival at the scene, GCSAR sent a four-person field team with oxygen to search for the man. 

"About three miles in, at 4:45 AM, the field team contacted the subject and a companion who had hiked down from Caribou Lake. He was breathing better but was weak and dehydrated. After a medical evaluation and about an hour of rest he was able to continue on foot. A litter and wheel were sent in from Monarch with two more rescuers as a precaution," GCSAR said in a news release. 

At roughly one mile to the trailhead, the man was no longer able to walk and was wheeled the rest of the way. He was then transported to Middle Park Medical Center by ambulance. 

Officials believe that the man was most likely suffering from altitude sickness.

Individuals that live at or near sea-level, people who have had it before, people ascending quickly, and anyone with medical issues involving lungs, heart, and nervous system are at a higher risk of the condition.

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, including people that are experienced at high altitudes, and can be deadly in some cases. 

According to the CDC, symptoms can include: 

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination

Find six things to know about altitude sickness in this OutThere Colorado guide.

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(1) comment


High altitude cerebral edema ("altitude headache") sets in within 24 hours of exposure to altitude and can be exasperated by dehydration, poor nutrition in the days leading up to altitude exposure, and underlying factors such as an early-stage cold or other illness. HACE can go away in 36-48 hours, but the victim may not be out of danger at that time - to the contrary, they may feel great in comparison and decide to push on, potentially taking them farther from fast rescue.

The more dangerous condition is high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), which can set in as quickly as 24 hours after exposure to altitude (I have seen this first hand at altitudes as low as 10,800 feet), and by the time you or your party recognize it, it may be too late for the victim to walk themselves out. The dead giveaway is the victim feeling like they can't get a full breath, discomfort when lying flat, and a chest rattle or a cough that sounds like croup or a smoker's cough. When it starts it will happen fast - you must evacuate the victim within hours unless supplemental oxygen or a CPAP can be administered.

Always carry a rescue communications device such as an InReach, and know the signs and symptoms of HACE and HAPE. These don't just affect Everest expeditions!

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