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National Guard helicopter assists Mount Wilson rescue southwest of Telluride

The National Guard flew a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter from Gypsum to rescue an injured climber on Mount Wilson Saturday afternoon. (Courtesy National Guard)
Solo climber’s lower leg crushed by rock; line lowered for helicopter extraction

Rescue teams, climbers and a National Guard helicopter participated Saturday in the rescue of an injured climber on Mount Wilson southwest of Telluride.

About noon, a solo climber at 13,800 feet elevation was seriously injured after a rock rolled onto his lower leg and caused a “crushing wound,” according to a Dolores County Search and Rescue report posted on Facebook.

The man, who was not identified, was immobilized, and a helicopter “pickoff” extraction was requested because the remote location had no landing spot, said Dolores County Capt. Keith Keesling.

Aug 1, 2022
Climber rescued off El Diente peak as storm nears

Local helicopters capable of the mission were away fighting fires in Oregon, so Keesling requested assistance from the High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum.

“They accepted the mission and sent a UH-60A helicopter to the scene, dodging some thunderstorms along the way,” he said.

Members of the Colorado Search and Rescue team were on board to assist.

Rico Search and Rescue set up a landing zone at the Kilpacker Trailhead. Teams from Rico, West Fork Fire Department and San Miguel Search and Rescue were on standby in case the injured climber had to be reached on foot. The San Miguel Sheriff’s Office also sent its new high-attitude helicopter to help locate the climber and survey the situation.

About 2 p.m., the National Guard team in the UH-60A Black Hawk were able to lower a rescuer on a line to the man, and he was hoisted up to the helicopter.

Before the extraction, the Black Hawk crew determined it had to reduce its weight to perform the hover maneuver needed for the rescue. It dropped off two crew members at a lower elevation, then flew around to reduce its fuel load, Keesling said.

The injured man, reportedly in his 40s, was flown to the Telluride Regional Airport and was transported by ambulance to the Telluride Medical Center.

Keesling said the climber was expected to be OK. He is not from the area. Mount Wilson, 14,252 feet, is rated the fifth-most difficult fourteener in Colorado.

A climber injured on the slopes of Mount Wilson took this photo of his location Saturday. He was successfully rescued, and is recovering. (Courtesy Dolores County Search and Rescue)
An injured climber on Mount Wilson required a helicopter rescue from the National Guard Saturday. (Courtesy Dolores County Search and Rescue)

Cell service is a benefit of the high peaks in that area, Keesling said, and the injured man dialed 911.

Keesling stayed on the phone with the him as the rescue unfolded.

“He was full of adrenaline at first, then was fading. There was a risk of shock and complications from the injury, a lot of swelling. He was very, very ready to get off,” Keesling said.

Four other climbers in the area helped the injured man and stayed with him, he said. They used a first-aid kit, including an ice pack, to render aid.

After the rescue, a second call came in for four overdue climbers in the same area of Mount Wilson. It was determined the four were the climbers who assisted with the rescue, and they made it out safely.

It was the second climber rescue in that vicinity this month. On Aug. 1, an injured man was rescued by helicopter from nearby El Diente Peak, 14,175 feet elevation.

“These are difficult mountains. The rescue went flawless,” Keesling said. He noted nearby thunderstorms and lightning were a concern but stayed away during the rescue.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com