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A lost hiker ignored rescuers' phone calls, thinking they were spam

Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, is seen here reflected in Twin Lakes near Leadville, Colorado. A hiker on the mountain didn't answer rescuers' phone calls because the number was unfamiliar.
Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, is seen here reflected in Twin Lakes near Leadville, Colorado. A hiker on the mountain didn't answer rescuers' phone calls because the number was unfamiliar.

You can get a cellphone signal on the highest mountain in Colorado, and if you get lost hiking that mountain, you should probably answer your phone — even if you don't recognize the caller's number.

That's the message being spread by Lake County Search and Rescue, which tried to help a lost hiker on Mount Elbert by sending out search teams and repeatedly calling the hiker's phone. All to no avail. The hiker spent the night on the side of the mountain before finally reaching safety.

"One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn't recognize the number," the rescue unit said on its Facebook page.

The hiker was lost on the tallest peak in the Rockies

Mount Elbert is the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains with an elevation of 14,433 feet. Both of the trails leading to its summit are "well trodden class one trails," the U.S. Forest Service says, meaning they're not very technical and don't require special gear. But the South Elbert Trail that the hiker was on does have an elevation gain of about 4,800 feet, and the mountain is currently capped with snow.

The hiker set out at 9 a.m. on Oct. 18 on a route that normally takes about seven hours to complete, round-trip. A caller alerted search and rescue teams around 8 p.m., and a five-person team stayed in the field looking for the hiker until 3 a.m., when the team suspended the search.

More searchers hit the mountain the next morning, but then the hiker appeared, having finally made it back to their car. The hiker had gotten disoriented in an ordeal that lasted about 24 hours.

Rescuers hope the incident can be a teachable moment

Lake County Search and Rescue is using the incident as a teaching moment.

"If you're overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone; it may be a SAR [search and rescue] team trying to confirm you're safe!"

In its message about the lost-and-found adventurer, the search and rescue unit also urged hikers on the mountain to "please remember that the trail is obscured by snow above treeline, and will be in that condition now through probably late June. Please don't count on following your ascent tracks to descend the mountain, as wind will often cover your tracks."

In a follow-up comment, the rescue team urged people to treat the hiker's plight with respect.

"What seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking. In Colorado, most folks who spend time outdoors have a good understanding of the SAR infrastructure that is there to help them, but this is not the case nation-wide."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.