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Elk-herd tracking gets man lost in Weminuche

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

An Ignacio man hunting in the Weminuche Wilderness became disoriented Thursday and spent a cold night in the woods away from his camp.

La Plata County Search and Rescue reunited the man with his group Friday morning. His name was not immediately available.

The 30-year-old hunter was tracking a herd of elk and couldn’t find his way back to camp, said Butch Knowlton, director of Search and Rescue.

“You’re chasing the elk, making your way through the timber, and you’re using the horizon and peaks and valleys as your reference points,” Knowlton said. “But when you lose those reference points because of fog or weather or darkness, no longer do you know how or where to go.”

The man used a satellite phone to notify authorities of his predicament Thursday night.

He eventually came across a tent belonging to another hunter that was not occupied, Knowlton said. He took shelter for the night in the tent from heavy rain and sleet.

“He happened on this tent, and it’s a good thing that he did because I don’t think he could have made it through the night,” Knowlton said. “As wet and cold as he was, I think it could have been a totally different story.”

Based on the man’s description of his surroundings, Knowlton sent a Flight for Life helicopter Friday morning to look for the tent. The pilot located the tent and gave the GPS coordinates to Knowlton.

Knowlton passed along the coordinates to members of the man’s group, which had cellphones and GPS receivers, and his friends were able to meet up with him.

The man was about 1½ miles from his camp, Knowlton said.

He was in the Virginia Gulch area north of Missionary Ridge above Lemon Reservoir.

The man was well-prepared with a satellite phone, but he would have been well served with a compass or GPS receiver.

“He had no navigational ability,” Knowlton said.

This tends to be a busy time of year for search and rescue with hunting season underway.

“There’s a lot of people in town, I can tell you that,” Knowlton said.

shane@durangoherald.com

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