PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– A woman with Mountain Rescue Aspen is now on a long road to recovery after sustaining serious injuries during a recovery mission.
“I can’t imagine being in her shoes, as other rescuers described to me, when the rocks we’re coming towards them, they weren’t trying to avoid the rocks there were so many in the air and so many coming down the hill, they were trying to pick the smallest ones to get hit by,” said Parker Lathrop, Chief Deputy of Operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
The rescuer, who did not want to be identified, was on a mission to recover the body of a missing hiker, Kelly McDermott, 32, from Wisconsin. McDermott fell from Capitol Peak while attempting to make the summit on Sunday. By Wednesday, rescuers located his body thanks to aerial assistance from the National Guard, in a hard-to-spot crevasse about 500 feet below the south side of the knife’s edge.
“We were able to ferry up four different rescuers, kind of below the crevasse he was in, they were going to hike up to him,” said Lathrop.
Just as the four were making the ascent, they believe a hiker from the knife’s edge above dislodged a rock.
“Which actually caused more or less a giant rock slide which came off that knife edge and down that gully,” he said.
One rescuer took a tennis ball size rock to his shoulder, and a boulder grazed the hip of a second rescuer. Compared to a third, their injuries were minor.
“The third rescuer, she took as it was described, a microwave-sized rock to her hip which sent her flying down the hill,” said Lathrop.
She sustained a comminuted femur fracture (broken in three or more pieces), multiple pelvis breaks and a fractured vertebra.
Her medical team anticipates multiple weeks of in-patient rehab, followed by months of physical therapy. With some luck, the rescuer and her teammates are hopeful she can return to normal activities and Mountain Rescue Aspen in six months to a year.
Lathrop said it’s an example of the risks responders take, as well as their dedication. With a busy summer in the backcountry, there are things hikers can do to help lighten the rescue load.
“You need to take time to develop the skills get the knowledge and have the experience to really end up on top of these peaks. They’re very unforgiving,” he said.