Hiking/Backcountry / Skiing/Snowboarding

Backcountry Safety Card designed to assist in rescues


By Jeffrey V. Smith
Major Rick Albers of the Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office was heartbroken earlier this year when a father and son from Minnesota lost their lives on Mount Evans. The months he spent searching for the men, however, sparked an idea that he hopes will prevent tragedies like theirs from occurring again.

“The McManus search had a big affect on me,” Albers said. “I was the incident commander on the search and was the one that had to tell the family that we were going to stop the search—one of the hardest things I have had to do in my 34 year career as a law enforcement officer.”

According to Albers, Damian and Evan McManus were overdue four days before the Sheriff’s Office was called. “So, we were starting with a disadvantage,” he said. Because of this, he decided there was a need to create a back-country card with survival information and a place to document hiking plans should a rescue become necessary.

“If one of the cards was placed on the McManus dashboard, a deputy would’ve noticed this, got into the vehicle, retrieved the card and saw what information was on it. I know that a deputy did check on the vehicle two days before they were reported missing, but there was nothing to tell us that they were overdue.”

The creation of the cards, which are distributed throughout the county and at trailheads, was a “team effort.” The McManus case got Albers thinking about the cards while Jane Coffin at the Idaho Springs Visitor Center suggested to place them all around the county. Director of the Clear Creek Tourism Bureau Cassandra Patton was then asked to design the card.

“This is something I would love for more people to know about,” Patton said. “The goal is put it at all the trail heads… and if for some reason your car is out of place, something happens or someone calls in, it has all of your information.”

In addition to the area for hikers to fill out personal information—clothing, boot type, route, dates of leaving and returning, contact information and more—the card includes survival information, hiking essentials, a summer and winter hiking check list, emergency contact information and wilderness safety tips. Personal information remains on the underside of the card and is only accessed should a search and rescue be instigated.

“My hope with the backcountry cards is to save a life or at least make people think before going into the wilderness,” Albers said. “I would like them to read the card and use the information on it. It is basic information on back-country hiking, but sometimes people just need a reminder or coming from another state it is valuable information to have to be better prepared. Also, with the right information, if filled out correctly and left on the dash, could help us find you sooner if you are lost or hurt in the wilderness.”

According to Albers, it is common in Clear Creek for people to find themselves in this type of situation. “People from out of state as well as in state do not understand how quickly the conditions in the mountains can change,” he said. “Even if they know a route, it is easy to get turned around with the change of weather.” The biggest mistakes people make in the backcountry include getting separated from your partner, not having appropriate equipment, not knowing where you are going and not being aware of the changing weather.

Albers and his wife, Clear Creek County Advocate Director Joni Albers, have now become friends with all the McManus family. “While this case was very hard for me to do, I now have friends for a lifetime,” he said.

Visit www.clearcreeksheriff.us to learn more.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of MMAC Monthly

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