Colorado's mountains always see their first rush of the winter season over Thanksgiving week, and it's not uncommon for tourists to want to enjoy the Rocky Mountain trails despite the plummeting temperatures at this time of year. One such family, who were visiting from Chicago last week, found themselves in hot water when they set off on a mountain trail in southern Colorado unprepared for the worsening conditions, and required mountain rescue to get them home safely.
The family of five, which included three adults and two children, set off on the Greenhorn Mountain trail southwest of Pueblo on Wednesday morning according to a Facebook post from the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office.
"They became hampered by effects of the altitude, unexpected snow and their experience level, which slowed their progress. As it was nearing dusk and realizing they still had quite a long way to go with no food and inadequate clothing for the dropping temperatures, the family called 911 for help."
The Green Mountains form some of the state's lower ranges, but Greenhorn Mountain, the highest point, tops out at 12,347 feet above sea level, which is more than high enough to encounter deep snow at this time of year. The hike itself is anywhere from 11 to 14 miles roundtrip depending on the route, and these factors ultimately proved too much for the family.
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The rescue took seven hours and entailed team members being airlifted to the family where the were given food, water and clothing. They then hiked down with rescuers to the top of Ophir Creek where emergency vehicles were waiting for them to escort them to safety.
Though the rescue crews involved noted the family were not adequately prepared, the did take several measures that helped ensure their safety and survival.
"While this rescue took extensive time and coordination by all involved, we commend this family for the things they did that led to their successful rescue," writes the sheriff's office, citing the presence of an outdoor survival kit and the fact that they had informed family members of their hiking plans prior to departure.
"They also had the awareness to call for help before it became a life-threatening emergency, before it got dark, and before their cell phone died. They also followed 9-1-1 operator instructions and remained in one location until rescuers could arrive and locate them."
Winter hiking safety
The Pueblo County Sherriff's office reminds all hikers to be prepared for changing conditions at high altitude, and in winter.
"We remind hikers or anyone going on trails or in the mountains to be prepared and aware of conditions and abilities before going out, especially this time of year when conditions can change rapidly, and the sun sets earlier."
When hiking in the winter, always check the weather, leave extra time for challenging walking conditions, dress in winter hiking layers and carry traction devices and emergency gear like an emergency blanket or shelter and a satellite communicator. Learn more in our article on winter hiking safety.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.