On Wednesday, January 8th, at approximately 4:30 p.m., two lost hikers contacted park rangers by cell phone. The 23-year-old male and female, from out of state, had reached the summit of Flattop Mountain (12,324 feet elevation) and became lost when hiking back down.
The two hikers did not have snowshoes or backcountry gear and were not prepared for the freezing temperatures or to be in the backcountry after dark. Due to "post-holing" in deep snow the man's jeans, cotton socks and leather work boots were frozen solid when searchers found them. Rescuers used a backpacking stove to thaw the man's boots so he could walk out.
This search could easily have had a tragic ending and serves as an important reminder that preparedness is critical when exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Frostbite and hypothermia present a clear and present danger. If going into the backcountry – visitors should plan their trip well and be prepared for the possibility of bitter cold winter conditions. Becoming lost or receiving a minor injury can be life threatening if not prepared, especially in winter. Most trails are not marked for winter use, so navigation can be challenging. Visitors should not rely on cellphone service as many areas of the park have no service. It is critical to check current weather and avalanche forecasts before venturing out.
At a minimum, winter backcountry visitors should carry water/ wind proof outerwear, whistle, topographic map, compass, flashlight or headlamp, matches or other fire starter, extra high energy food and water, extra layers of clothing and insulation, emergency bivy sack, and a first aid kit. Adequate winter footwear is essential - waterproof / insulated footwear with gaiters and snowshoes are needed.
Last Thursday a man had to be rescued after becoming disoriented while snowshoeing by himself near Flattop Mountain.