Longs Peak rescue operation, June 3, 2016

Soldiers rescued after night on Longs Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park made national news yesterday when ten Special Forces soldiers from Fort Carson had to be airlifted off the summit of Longs Peak (14,259 ft.). They were never lost or unaccounted for as some early reports said.

On the summit of Longs Peak

In brief, the soldiers undertook a training exercise Thursday, ascending the peak via Kiener’s Route. Two of them became ill with altitude sickness and the group had to stop for the night in a location inaccessible to rescue helicopters. They were able to continue to the summit yesterday morning and were finally picked up and flown off the mountain. They were hungry, thirsty, and cold, but suffered no injuries.

Having climbed the mountain myself back in the dark ages, I can’t imagine why they chose to climb at this time of year (still winter conditions on the mountain) or opted for such a difficult route. Actually, one report said the climb approximated conditions that might be encountered in Afghanistan. Since it was described as a training mission, I assume their objective was to test/learn their capabilities and limits, whereas mine was simply to get to the top via the much easier (relatively speaking) Keyhole Route. Not that a chopper ride wouldn’t have been fun, but that wasn’t part of the plan. You can’t really say you’ve climbed the mountain if you fly part of the way.

In all seriousness, though, this mountain is no joke. More than 60 people have died trying to climb it, and of the 15,000 or so who try every year, half never reach the summit.

Kiener's Route, Longs Peak, Colorado. There are easier ways to get up this mountain.
Kiener’s Route, Longs Peak, Colorado. There are easier ways to get up this mountain.

Here’s a much longer unedited video with loud music but no talking heads. At about 7:30 the camera zooms out to show the scale of the mountain, and at 9:15 the chopper takes off. After what seems a rather circuitous flight, perhaps because of prevailing winds, it lands on the helipad in Upper Beaver Meadows at 14:40. At 16:15 it begins its return to the summit. At 19:20 the camera again pulls out for a longer view. The video ends with the chopper landing again on the summit.

(Note, 8/26/2022: The video I originally described has disappeared. This is a different one, showing only the flight from the summit to the landing pad.)

8 thoughts on “Soldiers rescued after night on Longs Peak

  1. I saw this yesterday and wondered what you thought. They are lucky a high elevation helicopter and crew were available. They aren’t always.
    Seriously? This on top of the “training exercise” out of Fort Hood in flash floods that killed soldiers. (While telling everyone to turn around don’t drown – and surely knowing that 2 feet of swiftly moving water can float ANY vehicle…they drove right into it?)
    A bit of training the trainers needs to be done…maybe ask some ordinary locals if you can’t figure how to teach/train safely.
    (And now they will have to all climb it again…with more care next time hopefully)

    1. If nothing else, they learned to respect altitude. I was watching some motorcycle racing today in Lakewood, a Denver suburb, and there was a lot of talk about the altitude and the riders needing to control their breathing because of it, and the bikes’ engines being affected by it. Several riders dropped out because of altitude sickness. And that was here in the metro area. Longs is 9,000 feet higher.

        1. Altitude is sneaky. You know things are changing when you drive into the mountains, but it’s not particularly obvious if you just drive or fly to Denver, yet we are a full mile above the coast. Well, the capitol building is. Denver is down in a river valley. Most of the suburbs are higher than that. My phone says my sofa is at 5,533 ft.

... and that's my two cents