Missing Hiker Ignored Rescuers’ Phone Calls Because They Didn’t Recognize Number

A Colorado day hiker who was lost for 24 hours last week reportedly ignored multiple phone calls from Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel because they didn’t recognize the phone number.

A third party called SAR around eight p.m. MT on October 18th after the hiker failed to return on time from a planned summit of 14,440-ft. Mt. Elbert. When the hiker failed to answer multiple phone calls from SAR, rescue personnel began searching the mountain.

Rescuers were unable to locate the subject, who turned up unharmed at their place of lodging the following morning. They “had no idea that SAR was out looking for them,” according to a post on Lake County Search and Rescue’s Facebook page.

By this time of year, snowfall obscures trails above treeline on Mt. Elbert, while high winds can quickly erase footprints, according to the post. “The subject stated they’d lost the trail around nightfall and spent the night searching for the trail… finally reaching their car the next morning, approximately 24 hours after they’d started their hike.

The hiker was originally traveling on the South Mt. Elbert Trail, which is the standard winter route to the summit according to the Forest Service. Although it’s considered the easiest trail up Elbert, it’s still a 12-mile hike featuring 4,800 feet of climbing.

Hindsight Is 20/20

Social media users responded to the incident with derision. “People these days are scared to talk on a phone,” commented one Facebook user on Lake County SAR’s post. “Just imagine if they lived back in the days of no text, no callerID, God help them all.”

However, Lake County SAR urged the public to remember that “what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking… Please keep your comments respectful.”

The incident adds fuel to a growing online debate about whether Search and Rescue organizations should charge for their services. Some argue that SAR should hold inexperienced and underprepared recreationists accountable for risky and resource-intensive rescue operations. However, charging for rescue could endanger people by discouraging them from seeking help when they badly need it.

In this case, the hiker did not call SAR themselves and ultimately self-rescued. The hiker followed standard hiking safety best practices by sharing their itinerary with someone. Likewise, the reporting party was correct to notify authorities when the hiker did not check in on time.

Lake County SAR points out that “if you’re overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone; it may be a SAR team trying to confirm you’re safe!”

Featured image: A snowy view from the summit of Mt. Elbert in February 2013. Photo via.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?