NORTH ROUTT — Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers rescued a group of hikers from the Gilpin Lake area of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area in North Routt County around 6:20 p.m. Thursday.
Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman said the hikers were not injured, but they had gone farther into the hike than expected, ended up knee deep in snow and were not prepared to turn around or hike through snow.
Bowman added that the woman who called Search and Rescue did so from her Apple Watch, as her cellphone was dead.
To avoid situations where Search and Rescue would need to be called, Bowman encouraged hikers to be particularly conscious about trail conditions this time of year, as temperatures are cooler, days are shorter and most trails at higher elevation have snow on them. Additionally, Bowman said those hiking in remote locations should bring a fully charged cellphone.
If the trail does not have cellphone service, Bowman suggested buying a device that allows users to contact an SOS service that calls 911 with the location of the user.
“You just have to be prepared for massive changes in the weather. Be prepared to spend the night, bring food, lots of water and materials to make a fire,” Bowman said. “Most importantly from our standpoint is to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back — that allows us to begin our search of where to look for you.
“If someone reports you missing and we have nothing to go on, we can’t really start a search,” Bowman added.
While snow and cooler temperatures can be a safety concern for outdoor recreators, trail experts from Routt County Riders and the U.S. Forest Service said hikers and mountain bikers should also pay attention to conditions before using trails, as hiking or biking on a muddy trail can be harmful to the trail and vegetation in the area.
“The biggest message is that both trail conditions and weather are highly variable this time of year, so people need to pay close attention to weather forecasts,” said Brendan Kelly, recreation specialist with the Forest Service. “There can be a huge mix of trail conditions out there, anywhere from dry to damp but still OK to muddy to snow covered.”
Kelly said trail conditions should be tested. If a bike tire or a shoe is leaving a rut or mud is sticking, Kelly said the recreator would be wise to turn around. And Kelly said people should also remember that stepping off the trail and onto surrounding vegetation is also detrimental to plants in the area.
Laraine Martin, executive director of bicycle advocacy group Routt County Riders, said those looking to use trails should do so early in the morning when trails are still frozen and before they have softened to mud.
“Whatever has you off the trail by the time it hits about 32 to 35 degrees,” Martin said. “If you’re on a trail while the mud is still frozen, it kind of feels like packed dirt, so that works.”
Martin added that most trails are muddy by mid-October, but south-facing trails, such as those on the backside of Emerald Mountain, are typically the best option.
If a cyclist is biking a trail that is mostly dry with small portions that are wet, Martin suggested walking straight through while carrying the bike.
Martin said mud can also ruin a mountain bike.
“Despite the fact that you could be ruining the trail tread surface, you don’t want this type of mud mucking up your bike,” Martin said. “It’s a bad situation.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.