By Sheridan Block
Ice cold and wet, the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team trekked over the frozen landscape on the Blue Lake Trail off County Road 7 on Saturday evening.
Around 4:20 p.m. on May 23, the team received a report of a hiker who suffered a broken neck after a fall off rock at the trail. The incident took place nearly two miles up the trail at approximately 10,400 feet in elevation. Due to poor weather conditions, including heavy snow showers and dense fog, a helicopter could not be used to evacuate the patient, said OMRT Team Lieutenant and Public Affairs representative Tim Pasek.
Instead, the team strapped on snowshoes — loaned to the group by Ouray Mountain Sports — and made its way to the patient. OMRT member Ruth Stewart was the first to reach the patient around 6 p.m. Stewart is also a paramedic for Ouray County EMS and hiked her way to the patient alone as the rest of the team planned the mission at its outpost in Ouray.
According to Pasek, OMRT was communicating with Ouray County Sheriff and OCEMS who were already on site gathering details from the injured hiker's group at the trailhead. Before heading out, OMRT needed to consider conditions in order to determine what type of equipment was needed for the rescue. The option for snowshoes was chosen to allow for lighter packing, compared to heavy skis which would have made a more inconvenient hike over the deep snow and rough terrain.
Other OMRT members reached Stewart and the patient around 7:30 p.m. Using a fiberglass rescue basket, the team was able to safely secure the hiker for extraction around 8:30 p.m.
The journey back down the trail took nearly three times longer to complete due to conditions of the trail and the patient. Pasek reported that the route was "slippery and muddy" and the trail includes a rocky terrain.
"It's not unusual," he said about the extraction time. "What takes an hour to go up a trail on foot for a quick hike takes three times as long to move a litter with a patient through the same terrain."
The team finally delivered the patient to the OCEMS ambulance around 11:30 p.m.