According to the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office, search and rescue teams likely saved the life of a man who became lost on Colorado's 14,159-foot El Diente Peak.
The 35-year-old man from Durango contacted search and rescue via phone from approximately 13,600 feet of elevation on the south facing slope of the mountain. Amid rugged terrain, he found himself off-route, becoming 'cliffed-out,' which basically means he reached a point where a cliff prevented his descent and terrain was too dangerous for him to backtrack. Considering that the man was uninjured, search and rescue planned for a rescue the following morning, meaning that the man had to hunker down on the mountain overnight. Thankfully, he was well-prepared and able to spend the night in the field.
The following morning, Colorado Highland Helicopters flew rescuers into the area and found the man on extremely steep and rugged terrain. He was rescued and flown back to Telluride Regional Airport, where he was released.
Images from the rescue show how extreme the terrain was where the man was found.
El Diente Peak is notorious for the difficult navigation required to reach its summit and safely descend, with its route traveling through extremely rugged and loose terrain. All routes to the summit are class three at a minimum, with one route being class four. While the route this climber was attempting to follow wasn't explicitly mentioned in the official press release on the incident, it sounds like he was likely on the 'South Slopes' route. This is a class three route that travels 12 miles roundtrip with a slow-moving gain of 4,300 feet. A number of hazards exist, including exposure, rock fall potential, and overall commitment, but perhaps the biggest difficultly of this option is route-finding. It's worth noting that route-finding on out-and-back routes in extreme terrain can be particularly difficult during the descent portion, as most guides and websites only show images from the climb up the mountain. This can make it difficult to follow the same path down the peak, with even minor mistakes capable of resulting in an incident that requires rescue.
On terrain of this nature, it is extremely important to be prepared and to do adequate research on the route. Carrying some sort of GPS tracking device, like the Garmin inReach, can be helpful when it comes to refinding the route during descent. It's also important to have a back-up plan should something go wrong and to let someone know where you're headed and when you're expecting to be back.
The press release did not mention whether or not this man was on his ascent or descent of the route when he became cliffed-out.
Thanks goes out to the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office, San Miguel County Search and Rescue, and Dolores County Search and Rescue for their involvement in this mission, as well as Colorado Highland Helicopters. If you'd like to learn more about Colorado's volunteer-based, often donation driven search and rescue program, find their website here.
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