Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-12-18
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: mountains west of Eldora, CO
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: Missing hiker suspected to be caught in avalanche.

Bad weather hinders hunt for hiker

Hope fades for student caught in avalanche

By Mike Patty

Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

ELDORA -- Rescue teams battled bad weather and the risk of avalanche Sunday as they searched unsuccessfully for a hiker missing in the mountains west of Eldora.

The hiker, a University of Colorado student whose name was withheld by authorities, disappeared Saturday afternoon following an avalanche that he and a companion apparently triggered after trying to climb 13,222-foot South Arapahoe Peak.

"They turned back from the climb and were taking a different route back to their vehicle and triggered an avalanche," said Boulder County sheriff's Deputy John Appelmann.

The missing man's friend, also a CU student whose name wasn't released, searched the avalanche area for a time before hiking to an emergency telephone and calling for help at 5p.m.

Search crews hiked into the area of the slide,five or six miles west of Eldora, Saturday evening and looked for the missing hiker until about midnight.

The search resumed at first light Sunday, with 25 searchers from Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue, Alpine Rescue, the Boulder Sheriff's Department and U.S. Forest Service returning to the area on snowmobile, cross-country skis and snowshoes. The missing hiker's companion, along with rescue dogs and an avalanche expert, aided the seach.

Their daylong effort was hampered by deep snow, winds of up to 30 mph and subfreezing temperatures. While some of the rescue team searched the slide area, others checked out summer cabins and other shelters in the area in case the missing hiker survived the avalanche and found a place to stay the night.

Appelmann said the missing man is believed to be relatively inexperienced in winter mountain hiking but was thought to be wearing adequate clothing to survive the night. But by Sunday afternoon, hope began to fade for finding him alive.

"There is a lot of area to cover up there, and it is real slow going with the deep snow," said Boulder Deputy Rick Henrikson, a group leader with Rocky Mountain Rescue.

By late afternoon Sunday, the weather conditions deteriorated and the search was suspended.

"We are hoping to get a window in the weather (Monday) morning and get some fresh searchers into the area," Henrikson said. "Right now, the avalanche conditions up there are more dangerous today than they were yesterday."

Avalanches have claimed one victim this season. Daniel Samelson, 21, of Colorado Springs was killed last week while skiing near the summit of Cameron Pass, about 50 miles west of Fort Collins.

Last year, six people died in Colorado avalanches.

On Sunday , the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an

avalanche advisory for the Colorado mountains north of Interstate 70 to the Wyoming border.

"An advisory is a step below an avalanche warning," said Scott Toepfer, forecaster for the center. "Strong winds and up to 10 inches of new snow combined with a weak underlying snowpack have led us to issue an advisory. With more snow and continuing strong winds in the forecast over the next 24 hours, we may issue a warning tomorrow." People are advised to stay out of the back country and away from steep slopes when avalanche advisories and warnings are in effect.

Contact Mike Patty at (303) 892-5423 or

pattym@RockyMountainNews.com