The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Arizona Snowbowl has conducted two search and rescue missions on the San Francisco Peaks in the last couple of days.
The first was a search for two lost hikers who had attempted to summit Humphrey’s Peak by using the Humphrey’s Trail on January 10th. The trail was mostly indistinguishable due to the snow cover. The adult male and adult female called 911 at approximately 4:45 PM from a location at approximately 10,750 feet. The two hikers were unable to navigate back to the trail head and were becoming cold and did not have equipment for night time hiking. Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue personnel responded to the call and were assisted by the Arizona Snowbowl grooming snowcats so that they could be inserted near the wilderness boundary near the top of the Humphrey’s Chair Lift. The SAR personnel then hiked to the location of the hikers and provided them with warm clothes, food, and water before bringing them back to the top of the Humphrey’s Chair Lift where the snowcats transported them back to the Agassiz Lodge at 9:00 PM. Neither hiker requested any medical attention.
On January 11th at 12:45 PM Arizona Snowbowl Ski Patrol notified the Sheriff’s Office about two lost snowboarders who had left the ski area boundary and were in the area known as First Gully south of the ski area. The two snowboarders were separated by approximately half a mile. Ski Patrol, at the request of the Sheriff’s Office, left the ski area and skied down First Gully to locate one of the snowboarders. SAR personnel hiked in to the Viet Spring area to attempt to locate the second snowboarder. The second snowboarder eventually hiked out to the Viet Spring parking area where he was located by SAR personnel. Both snowboarders were reunited at the Viet Spring parking area and then reunited with friends at the Agassiz Lodge. Neither requested any medical attention.
In both missions the subjects were not adequately prepared for the winter backcountry. Winter trails that appear on maps may not be discernible in the field due to snow cover. Good backcountry navigation skills may be necessary including map reading, compass skills, and GPS skills. All backcountry travelers should be prepared with the “ten essentials” plus three winter backcountry essentials in addition to a cell phone. The “ten essentials” include water, food, extra warm clothing, navigation equipment, headlamp/flashlight, first aid kit, shelter material/space blanket, fire starting kit, pocket knife/mulit-tool, and whistle/signal mirror. The winter backcountry essentials are an avalanche shovel, avalanche probe, and avalanche beacon. A cell phone is a good item to carry but backcountry travelers should be aware that cellular service may not be available. Even if your cell phone does not indicate that it has signal, if you have an emergency you should still attempt to call 911. All backcountry travelers should leave a detailed trip plan with a trusted person who can contact emergency services in the event that the traveler does not check in or return by a specified time. When exploring the winter backcountry on the San Francisco Peaks the backcountry travelers should be aware of the potential for avalanche hazards. Additional education about avalanche hazards and avoidance is available from the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center at www.kachinapeaks.org.