ASPEN, Colo. (CBS4)– A teenager from Kansas is alive after a harrowing experience with severe altitude sickness at the Maroon Bells near Aspen.
He survived thanks to a doctor who happened to be on the same back country trail near Snowmass Lake.
Dr. Mark Bower was hiking with his daughter, Lara, when they had to take a detour on their hike.
“We’re from Springfield, Missouri and we were planning to hike the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells for four days,” said Mark.
But as he and Lara got closer to Snowmass Lake deep in the back country they ran into a father in need.
“He said his son was in trouble and asked us to check in on him since my dad is a doctor,” said Lara.
“I was trying to determine if it was a bad asthma attack or if he had high altitude pulmonary edema,” said Mark. “I’ve never treated a case. The only case I ever had was my own in high school.”
Altitude sickness isn’t uncommon in some mountain trails in Colorado but not everyone recognizes the symptoms or just how serious it can be.
“It’s 7900 feet here in Aspen and higher when you head into the back country, altitude presents tons of problems,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Alex Burchetta.
After a while Mark knew he had to act fast, “When we first saw him I would rate it at moderately severe. And within a few hours after I’d actually given him some medications his condition worsened.”
“It took about four hours to hike down from the mountain and then we had to hitch a ride to get to the main highway where we could get cell service,” said Lara.
They contacted Mountain Rescue Aspen which airlifted the teen to the hospital in Aspen. Doctors said the combination of a lower altitude and oxygen supplements have drastically improved his condition.
“MRA and the Pitkin county sheriff’s office have been tremendously busy. Mountain rescue is a fantastic organization, they’re a volunteer organization they are probably rightfully so very tired right now,” said Burchetta.
That was the 49th call the volunteer rescue group had received this summer which is a drastic increase over last year.
Not all missions have been successful in saving lives.
“Unfortunately twice this year it’s turned out to be situations like that that we call voluntary separations where someone leaves the group and ends up deceased which is a terrible situation but does happen,” said Burchetta.