Home Sport gear Two runners go missing in Colorado mountains, prompting more education – The Durango Herald

Two runners go missing in Colorado mountains, prompting more education – The Durango Herald

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Physical fitness is not enough to stay safe in remote areas where risks are amplified

David Lunde, seen here running in the annual Kennebec Mountain Run in August in the La Plata Mountains, was last seen when he parked his car in the La Plata Canyon and went for a run on the road away from La Plata Enchilada. (Ben Brashear/Special for The Colorado Sun)

Ben Brashear / Special for The Colorado Sun

As the worlds of trail running and technical mountaineering collide, rescuers share the message that physical fitness alone is not enough to successfully navigate remote mountains where the risk of accidents is amplified.

“There’s a big difference between going out for a run on some trails around town and venturing out into the San Juans and into really tough terrain,” said Brett Sublett, owner of Durango Running Co. for eight years.

There is a strong light ethic in trail running that eschews loaded packs. But as more and more athletes take up running in steep and remote mountainous terrain, which requires safety equipment, planning and more careful movement, the trail running community is seeing a growing need for ‘education. The redirection of runners comes after two athletes have gone missing on remote trails in the San Juans since July.

The focus on education is reminiscent of the increase in backcountry safety education over the past 20 years, as more and more skiers with honed skills on lift-served trails venture into avalanche-prone terrain, where a more diverse skill set is required for safe descents and navigation.

“There are a growing number of people going to very remote places on quite ambitious outings where one misstep can spell disaster if they don’t have safety equipment and are not consultable with someone. thing like a Garmin InReach,” said Brendan Trimboli, a longtime Durango runner who hosts the annual 15-mile Kennebec Mountain Run in the La Plata Mountains as a fundraiser for the research and development team. La Plata County rescue. “I think our sport has reached a point where we have to wrap it in a bit of responsibility while still keeping it fun.”

Beloved Durango runner David Lunde has been missing since Oct. 1, when he parked his car at the Madden Peak trailhead in La Plata Canyon and went for a run on the remote La Plata Enchilada Road . Dozens of local volunteers joined search and rescue teams in search of Lunde, 29, a rancher respected for his trail running prowess. Researchers recently suspended daily ground missions in an attempt to find him.

On July 17, 22-year-old Daniel Lamthach, a volunteer for the grueling Hardrock 100 race, went for a run at Col de Molas. He was unprepared for a night in the desert. The next day, hikers found her cell phone on the Elk Creek trail. Searchers and rescuers spent 10 days searching the area with planes and crews dropped by helicopter around the Trinity Peaks area. Severe weather, lightning and a mudslide hampered the search, which authorities suspended on July 27 after more than 250 staff hours the crews spent with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and 600 hours spent by local rescuers.

Julie Engel-Schrumm runs across a lingering summer snowfield on Georgia Pass near Fairplay with her dog Badger. The ultrarunning community is planning an education campaign to help trail runners better prepare for technical, high-consequence mountain running. (Dean Krakel/Special for The Colorado Sun)

Search and rescue teams have a growing list of missions involving ultrarunners in steep and remote terrain. In July 2018, Hannah Taylor, 39, a popular Summit County ski coach and accomplished mountain athlete, was killed in a fall in the Gore Range. A month later, rescuers from the Summit County Rescue Group needed a helicopter from the Army National Guard High Altitude Aviation Training Site – or HAATS – in Gypsum to hoist a trail runner wounded off the Tenmile crossing.

Just like Taylor, the man had grabbed a boulder to get around an outcrop and the boulder broke loose. He had “a significant fall, threatening his life and his limbs”, said Charles Pitman, who took part in the rescue mission for the man, who came from Europe. “The HAATS lifting operation probably saved his life as it would have been a very long, precarious and technically difficult rescue to carry out.”

In 2019, Rocky Mountain National Park rescuers needed a helicopter from Space Force Base Buckley to rescue a fallen trail runner near The Trough on Longs Peak. Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said the 30-year-old was “very lucky” that nearby travelers were able to keep him warm with extra layers in the hours it took to clear the injured man.

Patterson said park lifeguards are seeing more runners on Longs Peak and other remote locations in the park.

“Most of the time, because their goal is to move fast, they have very little with them, including extra layers and water. If an accident happened, they would be ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the situation,” she said. “We have more and more people mixing trail running with climbing and mountaineering goals as well. Often attempting to achieve the fastest recorded times without proper mountaineering or rock climbing equipment.

In October 2020, Hinsdale County searchers found the body of Ben Brownlee, a 26-year-old former college cross-country runner beneath Redcloud Peak after he was reported missing while solo hiking in the 14er.

No one is saying any of these athletes did anything wrong. The recent push to educate athletes who race further into remote areas with minimal equipment is more about how to prevent future accidents.

“When you choose to go light, your ability to move fast is your lifeline,” Trimboli said. “If something goes wrong and you can’t move quickly, you’re screwed.”

Trail runner Jenn Fields negotiates a dangerous stretch of ice, rock and snow on a trail in the foothills above Boulder. (Dean Krakel/Special for The Colorado Sun)

No educational campaign plan is formalized yet, but runners and lifesavers are working on messages that encourage runners to venture into technical terrain to plan and tell others where you are going, make sure you have skills for the route and wear essential safety gear for longer runs. in remote terrain, including diapers, a bivouac bag, emergency food, a medical kit and a satellite-connected device to call for help.

Ron Corkish, who served more than 34 years with La Plata County Search and Rescue, understands that runners don’t want to carry 10-pound packs on the trails.

But athletes exploring remote trails — the La Plata Enchilada Loop, for example, can stretch 40 miles, and fast runners need at least 20 hours to complete it — should always have a way to call in. ugly. A charged cell phone or satellite-connected device can not only save a life, but it can calm worried loved ones who can call rescuers when a runner fails to return in time.

“It’s light and it’s expensive, but it’s one of the best ways to tell the world that I’m fine or that I need help,” said Corkish, who suggests that mountain runners also bring a way to start a fire and additional layers, preferably in bright, unnatural colors.

(In recent research, airborne rescuers captured high-resolution video that’s filtered by software capable of identifying colors not typically seen in nature, such as royal blue, Corkish said.)

Rescuers and runners also hope to orient backcountry explorers to weather forecasts so they can prepare for the sudden changes common in Colorado’s high country.

Education can start with a simple “vernacular tweak,” Sublett said, like changing the way insiders define routes to differentiate between trail running and technical mountain running.

“Anyone can twist their ankle or blow their knee while running,” said Anna DeBattiste of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association. “Do you have what you need to survive for hours if you don’t move to stay warm? A high level of physical fitness will not save you if you are injured.

Durango riders Sublett and Trimboli saw more riders tackling high-consequence routes without proper preparation. Many have seen social media feeds of ultra-athletes like Kilian Jornet, a world-renowned runner galloping nimbly over alpine ridges. Strava streams highlight aggressive routes, making them less consequential.

For example, Sublett often hears strangers in his store asking about Wham Ridge, a steep and isolated climb on Vestal Peak in San Juans’ Weminuche Wilderness. It requires over 16 miles of running, all away from any road.

“We tell them that if you are Kilian Jornet, it’s not difficult at all. But it really depends on your level of ability, your skills and your experience with exposure on very important ground,” said Sublett.

It’s the same scenario that played out decades ago when ski films spotlighted top athletes hurtling down avalanche terrain without necessarily showing the days of study and years of training. who led these skiers to these lines. Back in the 1990s, backcountry skiers didn’t always carry an avalanche beacon, rescue shovel, and probe. Thirty years ago, many backcountry skiers didn’t take avalanche safety courses or annual refresher courses.

Now, it’s rare to see someone in the snowy backcountry without safety gear. Avalanche awareness courses are full. Traffic to avalanche forecasts from state-funded scientists like those at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center continues to grow.

Education campaigns can therefore help to improve risk awareness in the hinterland. It’s the goal for endurance runners and rescuers hoping for more head-up mountain adventures.

“The bar just keeps getting higher in our sport,” said Sublett, who is also course director for the Hardrock 100, a 100-mile race over technical terrain in the San Juans that was once ranked as the showpiece event of the endurance race. “Now people are looking for even bigger, steeper and gnarlier pitches. There is an appetite for that and people need to be well equipped and well informed.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. Learn more at coloradosun.com.