Rescue below Little Bear – June 18, 2023

At approximately 12:00pm on June 18, 2023, AVSAR Leadership received a call from State Patrol Dispatch in regards to two climbers on the Little Bear- Blanca traverse. The climbers started very early in the morning to hopefully complete the “grand slam,” summiting Little Bear – Blanca- Ellingwood.

When the climbers were nearly to the top of the hourglass ascending to Little Bear peak, one climber fell approximately 40ft, was able to self arrest with their ice axe, but then the axe broke free and the climber fell another approximate 10ft, self arresting with their ice axe once again. The climber sustained minor injuries to their knee but felt they could continue on their objective.

Once over halfway through the Little Bear – Blanca traverse, the climber who fell in the hourglass was starting to show signs of extreme mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. They were now feeling the pain from their fall earlier and were no longer able to continue on. If they were to turn around, they would have to climb back down the hourglass, and if they were able to continue on forward, they still had to climb the headwall before the summit of Blanca. The team of two decided it was best then to call for help. As the injured hiker felt they could not go on any further.

AVSAR just so happened to be training in the Lake Como Basin when the initial 911 call came in, so the response time was greatly accelerated. AVSAR Incident Command knew that because of the climbers’ location, we would need the assistance of a helicopter to hopefully insert teams higher and bring additional technical gear to the team members deployed. AVSAR requested the help of REACH Air Medical Services Guardian1 out of Alamosa and began the request process to utilize DFPC CaƱon Helitack out of Canon City for a possible STEP insertion.

Guardian1 flew the area but were unable to bring team members closer to the climbers’ location due to winds. Soon after, N58HJ was on scene and ready to deploy. N58HJ picked up one AVSAR STEP Technician and flew over the climbers location, it was then decided that they would insert the AVSAR team member via a toe-in Hover STEP. Once on the traverse at 13,800ft, the AVSAR member approached the climbers and assessed their situation. N58HJ then flew back to the staging area and picked up an additional AVSAR STEP technician.

The first technician inserted would begin to rappel the two climbers to a lower LZ, while the second technician began the ascent up to the climbers and technician and helped route find. Once at the lower LZ, N58HJ flew out both AVSAR team members and the two climbers to the Incident Command Post.

We can not thank our air assets enough for their assistance on this mission. Without their assistance, the mission would have taken substantially longer and would have put team members at a higher level of risk.
We also have to mention that this was the first time we used our official Helipad at Lake Como Rd and were able to have two helicopters on the Helipad at the same time. We could not have ever imagined that this would be possible and that we would have a Helipad! We can not thank the Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office, Alamosa County, Alamosa County Road and Bridge, BLM and so many more for making this happen!
Canon City Helitack
Eagle Air Med
Colorado State Patrol
Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office
Alamosa County
Colorado State Patrol
Reach Air Medical