The hauling team, from left to right: Kyle McAlpin, Liza Stewart and Chelsea Fagan. Courtesy photo

Just before dinner time on Thanksgiving, the Garfield County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) team was called out on a mission close to home.

Kevin Ward, who splits his time between the Roaring Fork Valley and Denver, decided to take a jaunt up Red Bluffs outside of Carbondale around 2 p.m. the same day. Little did he know, he wouldn’t make it back down until after 2 a.m. the next day. 

Ward got turned around and had a hard time distinguishing which trail would lead him back. He soon realized the one he’d chosen left him in a pickle with steep cliffs above and below.

“Finally, I got to a point where I’m on the side where Highway 82 is, and it got scary,” Ward told The Sopris Sun. “I didn’t even want to turn around.”

Around 4 p.m. Tom Ice with GCSAR was notified by Garfield County. Ice called Ward, who had limited battery life on his phone. Between the two of them, they were able to figure out Ward’s coordinates.

Classic Air Medical did a fly over to verify he was directly below where the rescue team was preparing to anchor from. GCSAR member Kyle McAlpin rappelled down to Ward to get him extra clothing, food, water and assess the situation.

GCSAR team member Elise Wolf then rappelled down to them. Kyle went back up to help with the hauling team from above, and Wolf put Ward in a harness to hoist him up the roughly 200 feet to where the rescuers’ anchors were set.

“I would say, ideally, we would want eight to 10 people to complete this operation, and we did it with six,” said Ice. “If we had been one person shorter, we would have been calling Aspen or Vail to help out.”

Ice and Wolf want to be sure their other team members are also recognized for their involvement: Liza Stewart, Denise Abate, Chelsea Fagan and Bobbie Duncan.

According to Ice, who has been with the rescue team for nearly 20 years, GCSAR has been around since the ‘70s. It is a nonprofit and all of the team members are volunteers.

Ice offered some advice to hikers who end up in similar situations. “If you start getting into sketchy terrain, stop where you’re at, turn around and retrace your footsteps rather than trying to keep moving in a direction that may lead you into trouble.”

“Everybody makes mistakes,” added Ice. “We are very much non-judgemental when we go out to help these folks, because it can happen to any of us.”

“They were freaking awesome,” Ward said of the GCSAR team. “I’m reflecting on it every day.”

Tune in for a live interview with GCSAR team members Ice and Wolf during “Everything Under The Sun”, The Sopris Sun’s weekly radio program on KDNK radio, this Thursday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m.

This Google Earth image depicts the coordinates of the hauling team above and Ward’s location below. Graphic prepared by Tom Ice