First winter storm strands backcountry hikers
Nov 25, 2013 | 8634 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Volunteers on snowmobile helped rescue five lost hikers from the San Juan County backcountry.  Brit Barton photo
Volunteers on snowmobile helped rescue five lost hikers from the San Juan County backcountry. Brit Barton photo
The first winter storm of the year hit San Juan County on November 22, bringing heavy precipitation and more than two feet of snow to the mountains.

The storm caused traffic problems, knocked out power to portions of Monticello, and stranded five hikers in the San Juan backcountry.

Five students from Colorado College were stranded near the Dark Canyon Wilderness during a five-day backpacking expedition in the backcountry.

The students called family members on Sunday morning to report that they were headed to their vehicle. When they didn’t report later in the day, a missing persons report was filed with the San Juan County Sheriffs Office.

A search and rescue operation was initiated that afternoon, but crews were unable to spot the missing hikers as darkness fell on November 24.

The morning of November 25 brought clear skies and warmer weather. Five snowmobile owners from Blanding unloaded their sleds near Natural Bridges National Monument and traveled approximately 50 miles in their search.

Search and rescue crews in a helicopter and on snowmobiles converged on the area near Peavine Canyon. An abandoned vehicle was discovered and soon afterward, the Classic Lifeguard helicopter crew spotted the missing hikers.

The hikers report that they were doing well until heavy snow covered the trail as they were hiking out on Saturday. They searched for their vehicle for several hours on Saturday and again on Sunday before setting up camp both nights.

The hikers were in their tents on Monday morning when they heard the helicopter in the area. The helicopter spotted the group and radioed the hikers’ location to the approaching snowmobiles. They were discovered about two miles from their vehicle.

The hikers were evacuated by snowmobile and were reunited with their families later in the day. There were no reports of injuries other than possible frostbite. The hikers were shook up at their predicament and glad to be safe.

The families of the hikers praised the response of the sheriff’s office and the search and rescue crews.

It is assumed that the vehicle will be snowed in through the winter.

More than a foot of heavy and wet snow fell on Monticello. Blanding received significant moisture during the early-season storm, which brought more than two inches of precipitation to the communities.

The heavy snow caused a number of problems for trees in Monticello. Several electrical lines were damaged, with power to the north portion of town cut off for more than an hour on Saturday morning.
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