“My leg snapped and my bone started protruding out of my skin,” said Alyson Kruetzer as she recovers from surgery at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood.
Kruetzer and two friends had reached the summit late Saturday morning. With her climbing partner, Prakash Manley, Kruetzer was headed back down when she slipped around 1 p.m. on ice and fractured her left femur.
“I just screamed for a long time because the pain was so intense,” she recalled.
What started out as a windy but blue sky day suddenly began to turn stormy. Manley could see Kruetzer was becoming hypothermic. At great sacrifice, he shed most of his winter clothing to keep the injured woman from freezing to death.
“He saved my life,” she said.
Darkness closed in and the pair found themselves huddled in near white-out conditions. Luckily, Kruetzer had earlier been able to use her cell phone to alert a friend of her situation. So help was on the way but the two experienced mountaineers knew it would take several hours.
After an unsuccessful Flight For Life Effort (watch video report below) a massive ground rescue effort was mobilized, including Park County Search & Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, Douglas, El Paso, and Summit Counties as well as Platte Canyon Fire. But it was slow going in the dark; team members had to hike through several miles of blinding snow.
“Search and Rescue couldn’t find us,” she remembered.
Kruetzer says “J.B” — her faithful black Labrador retriever who’d joined her on the hike — was the one who helped save the day.
“When my dog saw the lights like a mile away, he just started barking and that’s how I think they found us.”
The journey down off the mountain was a painful, agonizing experience. She said the only way to successfully transport her over the steepest section was to drag her in what she describes as basically an “inflatable body bag.” From the time she broke her leg to when she finally reached the trailhead and a waiting ambulance was 14 hours.
Interviewed Monday by CBS4 from her hospital bed, she gave thanks and praise to her rescuers and her climbing partner as well as her dog.
A self-described veteran of numerous ascents on all of Colorado’s highest mountain peaks, Kruetzer told CBS4 she’s survived much worse and, until now, never been seriously hurt.
She hopes to get out of the hospital sometime later this week.
Will this brush with death keep her from climbing in the high country?
“Absolutely not,” she said. “Mountains are my passion and I will go back.”