Ouray Mountain Rescue Team carries an injured climber to the waiting CareFlight helicopter on June 24, for transport to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction. The waiting helicopter can be seen in the background. Photo courtesy Mike Gibbs
by Caleb Stento
The Ouray Mountain Rescue (OMR) team had two calls last week for serious head injuries to back country users. A third call was too late to save a hiker on Mt. Sneffels.
A family was out enjoying the mountainous terrain on Wednesday, June 27, when a large rock fell and injured one of the family members. A call went out to OMR shortly after 1:00 p.m.
According to Mike MacLeod, OMR Team Captain, “They were scrambling around kind of at the base of The Ribbon ice climb (adjacent to Camp Bird Road). A pretty good size rock came down and struck him in the head. He sustained pretty significant injury from the rock fall.”
The injured man was Marston Doolittle, age 75, from Madrid, Neb., where he still operates a small farming and cattle operation. The group was hiking to an abandoned mining structure where in 1957, during his first visit to Ouray, Doolittle had etched his name and the year in an old wooden door. According to Doolittle’s son Al, it was a kind of tradition when the family visited Ouray to hike to the secluded spot and see where his father had carved his initials some 55 years before.
It was an extremely challenging rescue due to the location. MacLeod related that OMR had to drop down into the gorge, cross the river and climb to where Doolittle was located, after which they had to do the reverse while transporting the injured man in a litter.
Once on Camp Bird Road, Doolittle was placed in an ambulance and transported to the nearby CareFlight helicopter and flown to Grand Junction.
“It was a pretty big, expedited, serious extrication,” MacLeod stated. “It was a big rescue. It’s not an easy task to get somebody from that location. A couple of our experienced team members said it was one of the worst slopes they’ve had to do an extrication on.”
At press time, Doolittle is on life support in the St. Mary's Intensive Care Unit and so far has not shown signs of improvement, according to Al Doolittle.
Another came on Sunday, June 24 around 9:00 a.m. An experienced team of climbers was ascending Coxcomb Peak when a large rock fell and hit the team’s belayer in the back of the head, causing serious injury. The victim of the accident, a male in his early 30s, was wearing a helmet, which MacLeod credited with saving the man’s life.
According to MacLeod, the climbers were tackling a climbing route on the north side of Coxcomb when the accident occurred. His fellow climbers got him lowered off the technical part of the route when OMR intercepted them.
MacLeod said, “He was pretty banged up. But, his buddies did a good job of taking care of him until we got there.”
The injured man was then transported to the waiting CareFlight helicopter, which took him to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
The helicopter was skids off the ground by about 2 (p.m.),” MacLeod said. “Last I heard it sounds like he’ll be OK.”
On Friday June 29, a man in his mid-sixties was making the climb up Mt.Sneffels when he started having difficulty breathing. A short time later, others who were climbing the route came along, one of whom was a doctor. The doctor recognized that the man wasn’t just tired and that something was seriously wrong. Ouray Mountain Rescue sent a team member up on a dirt bike to get to the scene as quickly as possible with a defibrillator, but after coordinating with bystanders to perform CPR for approximately 30 minutes, the doctor pronounced the man dead.