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More Visits To High Country Cause New Stresses For Rescuers

EVERGREEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Twice in one weekend, Alpine Rescue headed up to Torreys Peak to help people in a bad spot. On Saturday, a skier took a bad fall and needed to be pulled off the mountain. Sunday morning, five experienced climbers got into trouble as they practiced for a climb of Washington's Mt. Rainier. A rockfall started above the group and brought snow cascading down with it. Several climbers were hit, including one with a bad gash on his head.

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"There were two very large sized boulders, one about the size of a picnic table and the other about the size of a dishwasher that impacted above us, and I had to leap out of the way of both of those…"

"They just ping-ponged off the sides of the couloir and caused all kinds of smaller rocks that ah, that ended up hitting the team behind me."

But the group ultimately told rescuers they were able to walk out on their own.

At this time of year, when there's still snow on the high slopes, there's a freeze-thaw cycle up high that can add to rockfall.

In the mornings, there is a new challenge.

"That snow is going to melt very quickly and get very soft and wet. And once that crust is gone and the snow melts, the snow becomes very unstable and dangerous," said Alpine Rescue technical specialist Dale Atkins.

That same weekend, Reid Neureiter made it up to the top of Mount Evans on a motorcycle ride. He had made a required reservation and found things wide open in the parking lot.

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"It felt different than two years ago," Neureiter said.

The crowds were far reduced. But as he gazed across at Mt. Bierstadt and took out his camera, he snapped telling photos.

"That was not the wilderness experience one would think of getting to the top of a 14er."

There was a big crowd at the summit. It wasn't the only crowd he found recently.

"We were in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison this past weekend and that was very crowded."

Colorado's growing population is combining with COVID "cabin fever" to bring more people doing more activities.

"The high mountains are an incredible place to be, and people are loving them. And all of that love is coming with a cost," said Atkins.

That can be trail damage, which is particularly heavy in wet spring weather.

It can also mean people putting themselves in bad spots.

"I think that reflects not just more people out there, but more people trying to tackle the more challenging, more sporty and spicy routes," Atkins explained.

On Grays and Torreys Peaks alone, rescues are up 700% over 10 years ago.

"It's exciting to be on the high peaks, it's exciting to have the exposure of being on the steep slopes or a rocky ridge or a steep snow couloir. And, boy, the modern world and social media has romanticized all that. It makes it more exciting and it shows people doing it and having fun."

Nearly all of the time things go well he added. But sometimes they don't. Calls to rescue groups have gone up a great deal in recent years.

"Because we're all volunteers and we all have lives and family and jobs, and the increasing number of missions is a big burden on the whole system."

Better avalanche forecasts are helping keep things safer. Atkins worked for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center decades ago. People are going to new places and safer – but so many more. "I think if we had available to us today the level of forecast that we had thirty years ago, we'd be having scores of people killed in the high country."

Reservations at places like Mount Evans and now Rocky Mountain National Park are changing the way we recreate.

"I think it's sad, too that the idea of spontaneously saying hey let's go up to Rocky Mountain National Park today, or tomorrow is not going to work because you're going to need reservations to go up there," said Neureiter. "I think it limits the options of things we like to do."

Be safe and prepared, noted Atkins. And start early.

"And then enjoy the afternoon with a barbeque at home."


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