Three backpackers got stuck in deep snow on two separate incidents on the same trail in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness last week.

According to a news release from West Elk Mountain Rescue (WEMR), the backpackers all got stuck on the Silver Creek Trail in East Avalanche Creek, which begins at the top of the Lead King Loop near Marble.

The first incident took place on July 5. Crews responded to the area at approximately 6:15 p.m. after the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office received an SOS signal from a solo backpacker via Garmin inReach.

“She was located on the north side of Silver Creek Pass, approximately three miles from the trailhead. The subject reported being cold and tired and was having difficulty navigating the deep, continuous snow [and] route finding as the trail is buried under continuous snow on that side of the pass,” the release said.

Ultimately, because of the time of day and the backpacker’s location, a Classic Air Medical helicopter was enlisted to assist in the rescue efforts.

The helicopter crew located the backpacker and was able to transport her out of the field. No injuries were reported in this incident.

On July 7, rescue teams were dispatched back to the trail at approximately 3:00 p.m. after receiving another Garmin inReach signal.

Two backpackers requested assistance after one injured their knee and was struggling to hike through the snow.

A team of six SAR members hiked toward stuck the party, and a helicopter was again requested to assist. The helicopter crew ultimately located the backpackers and was able to transport back to safety.

“These hikers encountered conditions that are hard to imagine on a warm summer day at the trailhead. Deep, wet snow adds difficulty to what is already difficult terrain and increases the risks of exposure,” said Jeffrey Turre, WEMR President. “Rapid GPS communication with the distressed individuals, efficient collaboration of responder services, and workable weather conditions meant we were able to complete these missions efficiently and before nightfall.”

Even if the forecast calls for sunshine and blue skies, hikers should be prepared to run into snow at higher elevations around the state, especially given the above average snowpack that was recorded this year. 

“All the entities that work together on calls like this are committed to safe and efficient aid for those who need it. But a good rule of thumb is to prepare for your adventure as if we won’t be there to help. Right now that means cool nights and tough conditions,” Turre said.

Given the conditions of the trail, this situation could have had a much worse outcome. It’s important to prepare for unexpected situations when entering the Colorado backcountry, even if that means carrying around additional equipment like extra food, water, and layers to stay warm.

A GPS device, like a Garmin inReach product, is also a great tool to have with you. Carrying one can help you establish a line of communication with emergency response teams, if needed. 

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