An Arizona family vacationing in the Weminuche Wilderness Area came across a Bayfield family lost for two nights in the area and helped guide them to safety.
Mike and Laura Hampshire were in the area camping while their daughter attended a multi-day Girl Scout camp, said Dan Bender, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. When the Hampshires heard helicopters flying over, they were concerned it was something to do with their daughter’s camp.
Shortly afterward, they heard whistles and bumped into Dustin Beaver and his three children, Bender said.
Beaver and his children got off course Saturday while hiking to Dollar Lake, and he told authorities they got faulty directions on which trail to take by a fellow hiker, according to a release from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. Although searchers who began to look for them Monday did not know it, Beaver had carried a tent, food and extra water on what was intended to be a day hike.
The Hampshires and the Beaver family were met by La Plata County Search and Rescue personnel about 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Pine River trailhead near Vallecito Lake. The trailhead was well outside of the initial search area, Bender said. “That’s east and almost the opposite direction if you’re going to Dollar Lake.”
Butch Knowlton, emergency management director for La Plata County, said he was speaking with Beaver’s wife when they learned her family had been found.
“The mom had tears of sorrow as I conducted the interview with her, and instantly they turned to tears of joy.
“I can’t stress enough that this is some of the most rugged terrain in the Weminuche area, and having that period of time to travel with three children is a major feat in itself,” Knowlton said. “We have to provide a lot of thought and respect to the father for what he did in bringing the children out in good shape because that was our goal, and he accomplished it.”
According to the release, Beaver started a fire each night, and when Upper Pine River Fire Protection District personnel checked them out Monday night, their only complaints were many bug bites. Beaver was hiking with his 8-year-old twins – a boy and a girl – and his 6-year-old son.
Search efforts began early Monday after Beaver’s wife reported that she had not heard from her husband and found his vehicle parked at the Cave Basin trailhead north of Vallecito Lake.
The lost family spent Saturday and Sunday night at higher elevations, which was concerning to searchers because they were not sure what supplies Beaver had taken with him, Bender said. “They took enough items for the trip it appeared when they left the house, but there were sleeping bags and other items still in the vehicle when the vehicle was found.”
This is not the first time hikers have been lost in the area near Dollar Lake, Bender said. “The area where this search happened is a place that is easy to get lost and hard to find.”
The dense undergrowth and steep terrain made it difficult even for search personnel to maintain their bearings, Bender said. One searcher was separated from his group and had to be located and returned to his crew.
“They’re the experts, They’re the people with the communications and gear and everything, and if they had trouble keeping together you can only imagine how difficult that would be for the casual recreational hikers and campers,” Bender said.
The Weminuche’s designation as a wilderness area compounds some difficulties with search-and-rescue operations inside its boundaries, Knowlton said. The 1964 Wilderness Act stipulates that motorized vehicles cannot enter wilderness areas so all searches must be conducted on foot, horseback or in the air.
Additional search resources requested for Tuesday were canceled, he said. “There would’ve been more ground personnel and also air searches were planned.”
Night operations were underway when the news that the family had been found came in, and one crew did not exit the Weminuche until almost 3 a.m. said Ron Corkish, president of the La Plata County Search and Rescue board. Plans had included use of a C-130 from the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque to fly over the area looking for heat signatures and direct a UH-1 helicopter to investigate them.
“They were literally less that 30 minutes from launch and the best news in the world came, so they were able to stand everybody down and unspool,” Corkish said.
Luke Perkins is a full-time student at Fort Lewis College and an intern at The Durango Herald. Reach him at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The Hampshires were initially identified as being from Australia, and that was reported in an early online version of this story. Mike Hampshire was born and raised there, but the family lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Also, the caption has been updated to correct Matt King’s name.