Colorado Hunter Rescued by Helicopter in White River National Forest

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Posnov via Getty Images)

What began as a fun weekend hunting trip in White River National Forest became a nightmare scenario for one father-son duo on Saturday (November 13). It all started when the Denver men set out for a remote hunting camp near the beginning of Little Deadman Creek. Though used to the relatively high altitude of Denver, the mountainous city of Colorado that rests over 5,000 feet above sea level, White River National Forest is an entirely different environment.

Little Deadman Creek sits at a towering 8,458 feet in elevation, well above the point at which altitude sickness can begin to wreak havoc on the body. At first, the younger hunter felt fine and was simply looking forward to an outdoor adventure with his father. As night fell on Saturday evening, however, the 36-year-old began to feel ill.

Altitude sickness doesn’t set in right away. Instead, symptoms typically take between 6 and 24 hours to develop. But once they do, it can be life-threatening.

Darkness enveloped their camp and the hunter’s symptoms were only getting worse. His son unable to leave the camp on foot, the father began the 4-mile trek across the rugged terrain of White River National Forest. If he could alert Dale Coombs, owner of Old Time Outfitting, to the situation, the experienced rancher could no doubt assist his ailing son.

Without hesitation, Dale Coombs set to work constructing a rescue mission. Unsure of what he would find and familiar with the dangers of altitude sickness, the wilderness expert alerted Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office of the situation in case further assistance was needed. He then prepared three horses for the journey, grabbed his GPS-enabled satellite phone, and departed for the remote hunting camp, the worried father in tow.

Helicopter Rescue Crew Successfully Transport Hunter From White River National Forest

After a difficult four-mile ride, Coombs and the elder hunter arrived back at camp, hoping to help the ill man to safety on horseback. Unfortunately, however, his condition had only worsened in the hours since his father’s departure. One look at the debilitated hunter and Dale Coombs knew the mission was beyond him. There was no way the hunter could make the hour-and-a-half ride back to Old Time Outfitting.

Thankfully, Coombs had his satellite phone on hand, enabling him to maintain contact with the Sheriff’s department. Just after 11:00 p.m., the White River National Forest native informed deputies that their assistance would be needed.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department prepared for every eventuality. They hoped to send a helicopter crew to the camp to rescue the hunter. This was by far their fastest option and the hunter’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Due to the hunter’s location, however, it was possible that the helicopter would be unable to land in the area.

As such, they contacted Mountain Rescue Aspen and Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue as well. Should they be forced to execute the rescue mission on foot or horseback, they were prepared to do so.

Thankfully, the Flight for Life helicopter was able to land in the hunting camp. And at around 2:15 a.m., Pitkin County Sheriff Deputies received one last call from Dale Coombs. The helicopter had successfully lifted off and the ill hunter was on his way to the hospital in Lakewood.