Search & Rescue

Hiking in Bell Park

With 6 Tips for Hiking with the Kids

Part of the Bell Park trail

Part of the Bell Park trail

There a little known park in Evergreen, CO called Bell Park that is a really nice place to hike with kids because it’s never very crowded. Probably because parking isn’t very good. But, if you can squeeze into a spot on the wide shoulder of the road, you won’t be sorry. You can’t go very far in Bell Park though, as its surrounded by roads and residential lots in the mountains just south of downtown Evergreen. There are also some fun geocaches in the park which is the reason we went there last Saturday.

Park at the 'A' marker

Park at the ‘A’ marker

Several years ago, my wife and daughter and I hid one there in an old engine block in the middle of the park. I got an email from someone searching for it that it wasn’t there anymore and it needed to be replaced. I expect it was either found by a person or an animal carried it away as it was just an old plastic film canister.

Bell Park is actually a bit larger than I make it seem, but it’s bisected by Little Cub Creek Road and this little part we were hiking in is also connected to Cub Creek Park. But, there’s not enough contiguous park land to really get lost – which is probably why we’ve never had a SAR mission in here.  It’s also got some great views, including Mount Evans.

The view of Mt. Evans, which is more visible on a clear day.

So me and the kiddos and the dog jumped in the car and headed out just a few minutes from our house to find the wide spot in the road and start our hike on the Foothills Nature Tail. This trail is actually a big loop, heading south-ish straight up the hill to a clearing on top of wide ridge line that’s actually more of a field. The trail follows the “ridge line” to the east until it approaches some houses, then turns north, downhill towards the road and the creek and follows that back down to where you started.

Today, we weren’t doing the whole loop but were just going to restock the cache and then, since we didn’t have to get back anytime soon, explore for a while, which is where the fun and imagination comes in for us.

A we started up the hill, we noticed quickly that a tree had fallen on the power lines and was resting on them. We VERY quickly rushed by this just in case it broke and promised to call Xcel Energy when we got home. Once up the hill, they both wanted to run and hold the iPhone with the geocaching app to find the cache, but, alas, downer of a dad that I am, I make them choose one or the other, so they decide to trade-off walking and holding the phone and then running with the dog.

Our lunch view in this grove of trees

Our lunch view in this grove of trees

Finding it was pretty easy and then deciding where the new one be should be hidden turned out to he a committee decision. Once decided, then we could start playing, exploring, building stick shelters and climbing some rocks! Eventually, we started meandering back down the trail and went past the turn off to the car and kept going a bit. We “pioneered” a new trail down the hillside to a really nice grove of trees overlooking the creek, found a place to have a seat on the day pack and had a snack.

After our snack, we headed back up the hill, crossed a small gully, saw another tree leaning against the power lines, and then noticed a large outcropping of rocks the definitely needed to be climbed upon. Once this pile of rocked was conquered, it was time to head back to the car but, not before playing in the steam for a few minutes…

All in all, a great day hike for the family and kids. And with a few hints I learned that made it even better for the kids.

  1. Give them a goal. We sometimes go geocaching and while I don’t search for caches all the time, I sometimes use this to create hiking goals for the kids. It gives them something to look forward to and a way to participate in the hike. Some caches are large with toys in them and if they bring a small toy or nick knack to put in, they can take one out.
  2. Give them Responsibility. They LOVE navigating with the GPS or the app. It really gets them excited to see how close they’re getting. They were also in charge of getting our snacks together.
  3. Give them advanced notice. I started talking to them a couple days prior to going and told them where we were going and our goal and they looked forward to it for those days. When the day came to go, they got ready really quickly.
  4. Give them freedom. Make sure you have plenty of time to explore and have a great time. Try not to rush and let them lead and they’ll do great!
  5. Give them a snack. All kids love a snack and this is also a goal; to hike to someplace cool for a snack. I prefer snacks with a view and so do they.
  6. Give them a game. Sometimes our youngest says she gets tired and begs to rest, even though we haven’t been out very long. She also likes to run. So, my wife discovered that we can do a Run-n-Rest with her. Which means that she and one of us runs ahead a bit, then stops to rest until the others catch up. Then she runs again until we catch up and does this several times and then soon forgets she thought she was tired.

I’d love to hear other ideas!


Mt Bierstadt Summit at 1:00 AM

Mount Bierstadt is a 14,065 foot mountain in the front range of Colorado. It’s easily accessible when Guanella pass is open and fairly easy to summit if the weather is good. One evening last summer, we were paged to look for an overdue hiker who had left earlier in the day to summit Mount Bierstadt. He’d been up for a while and hadn’t returned by about dinner time and we were paged out to head up and start looking.

Trail from Guanella pass to Mount Bierstadt and surrounding area

Trail to Mount Bierstadt

We spend a fair amount of time in this area training and searching for folks around Mount Evans, the Sawtooth ridge line between the two summits and the valleys below. There’s a lot of area above tree line here and in many ways it’s not a very forgiving environment. But, the hike up to the Bierstadt summit is fairly doable – especially in the dark.

I was paired up with another member and after tightening my favorite Montrail boots and gaiters and making sure I had enough water, food and the rest of the 10 essentials, we headed out. We started down the trail first (it goes down into the willows and the creek first) in the dark, finding our footing up and over the man made wooden bridges spanning the marshy areas. Then we started up.  We spent the next couple hours slogging up in the dark with the stars over head; a clear, cool evening, perfect for hiking.

Mount Bierstadt Survey Marker

I’ve never done a 14er at night and despite the reason, I really enjoyed it. It was incredibly peaceful and while Bierstadt can have a LOT of people on a summer day, it was just the 2 of us tonight, hiking quietly, stopping only occasionally for a drink or a snack and occasionally chatting and the rare interruption of the radio guiding the different teams. Oh, and a short period with a helicopter flying around overhead also looking. Helicopters, at night, when they can’t see anything, near a summit is a strange site. Those Flight for Life helicopter pilots are amazing.

Eventually, we made it to the top. It was right about 1:00 AM and even though it was the middle of the night, the views were amazing.  Denver way off in the distance, millions of stars overhead, no moon and knowing that we were out there trying to make a difference left quite an impression.

The Summit at 1:00 AM

The Summit at 1:00 AM

After searching the logs in vain and looking around the summit for a while, it was time to turn back and head down. As always, going down is faster than going up and we made good time. Remember when we started the hike, we started out going downhill for a while? You sort of forget this until you get to the creek and realize that the hike is back uphill to the parking lot. By this time, you’re a little tired and you’re slowing down and it seems to take forever to get back.  But, eventually, you get there and are welcomed by some other team members. We didn’t find our subject that night and were sent home. Unfortunately, another team found him during a search the next day after he had passed away.

Please remember to be careful in the mountains, especially areas that are steep and rocky and MOST especially, when you’re hiking alone.  Better yet, find a partner, watch the weather (it had rained hard earlier), be prepared, tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be back and don’t take any unnecessary chances. Your friends and family want you to get home!

I’d love to know if you’ve had similar experiences of night hiking or with Search and Rescue.

Finding a Lost Hiker Near Mount Evans

One cool fall evening 8 or 9 years ago, our mountain rescue team was called to help look for a lost hiker up near mount Evans. As you travel up highway 103 to the Mount Evans turn off, there’s a pull out on the north side of the road for parking and a trail on the left side that goes up to the summit of Chief Mountain. It’s not a very tall mountain as it rises just above tree line, and it’s not a difficult hike, as it starts pretty high to begin with. But, like many peaks that are above tree line, the trail up at the top is difficult to find at times.

There’s one spot in the rocks on the way down where the trail turns left, but if you aren’t watching, then you miss the turn and head straight down another drainage. This is called Metz Creek, or as we also call it, a horrible place to get lost and a PIA place to hike. There aren’t really trails down there and it’s steep, rocky and full of lots of downed trees. Not quite as many as in a spot in the La Salles outside of Moab where another instructor and I hiked for more than an hour exclusively on downed trees and never touched the ground. This was almost worse because it’s lots of ups and downs and climbing over and it’s very slow going.

Echo Lake near Metz Creek and Mount Evans

Echo Lake near Metz Creek and Mount Evans

We started out in several teams covering different parts of the wide, yet deep drainage, calling her name and searching behind every rock and tree and under bushes looking for any sign of her. We spent several hours combing through everything, yet knowing that the POD, or Probability of Detection, was dropping as it got later, darker and colder. Oh, and it started raining.

Eventually, everyone who goes down this drainage ends up at the same place, so it’s also a fairly predictable place to search, and when we search there we all almost always end up down there as well and then get driven back up to our cars. And, as all the teams head down the drainage, we often catch up to each other to walk out together.

After 3 or 4 teams all joined up, we became a big group and as big groups do, we started chatting about the search area and speculating what might have happened and what the search the next day would be like. And I think this loud chatter is what eventually alerted our subject to our presence. Fortunately, someone in the group heard her yelling and told the rest of us to be quiet so we could hear better. Although she was screaming loud enough that I’m sure we all would have heard momentarily.

This was well into my first year on the team and because of that, one of the senior members in our group encouraged everyone to let me and another member take the lead and find her, which I’m glad they did. This remains one of my more meaningful searches and rescues to date.

We followed her screams and yells into the blackness of this rainy, moonless night and eventually my headlamp found her; huddled on a small rock, next to a stream. Having shed her cotton sweatshirt after it got soaked through, she was wearing only running shorts, running shoes and a jogging bra. All were soaked. When I was finally within reach, she practically jumped into my arms and held on tight enough to make sure I wasn’t going anywhere without her.

After reassuring her that we would never leave without her and were there to help her, we all dropped our packs and pulled out our warm stuff to put on her. We loaded her with fleece and a down coat and dry socks and some food and water and helped her warm up for about 20 minutes before giving her a headlamp and starting the walk out. Obviously, we needed to get her moving so she could warm herself up and happily this happened fairly quickly.

By the time we made it down and out to our vehicles, she was plenty warm. She was able to get out of the rest of her wet clothes and then we all piled in the trucks for the ride back around to where we started. After a quick chat with a police officer about her experience and a quick once-over by the ambulance crew, she was ready to head home with her family and friends and a new experience to talk about for a long time.

We’re all very grateful that this ended happily and would love all of them to end this way. Unfortunately, some of them don’t. But in hindsight, it’s easy to see how she got lost and what she could have done differently to protect herself better. Probably, had we not found her she would have been ok, just REALLY cold, as I don’t think it got below freezing that night. But, you never know.

Here’s my take on her experience and what could have been done differently. Remember this when you head out.

1. When this group was heading down from the summit, she separated from them. Presumably, to run down on her own. She missed the trail while the rest of her group found it. Keep your eyes on the trail so you don’t miss it when it’s not obvious.
2. She wore only cotton. It would’ve been easy to exchange her cotton sweatshirt for a fleece one or add a light shell.
3. She didn’t bring anything with her like water, snacks, fleece, flashlight, whistle, fire starter, etc. Of course starting a fire in these conditions would’ve been extremely challenging at best, but it’s certainly possible. Check your 10 essentials.
4. She was stuck at the bottom of the creek, one of the coldest places she could’ve chosen. And even though the creek was small, it still made noise which made it harder for her to hear rescuers calling. The better place to be in this type of situation would have been higher up the hillside. This way, she’s not where the cold air settles. And not at the very top where it’s more windy and cold. Somewhere in the middle where she could settle in and find some shelter of downed trees and branches might have made her a lot more comfortable.

To be fair, though, this is the sort of trail where you think you’ll just go up quickly, have a snack and a look around and then come back down. It’s short and easily doable in a few hours and its not one you think you’d get lost on. But, it’s these types of hikes that people do get lost on or have a hard time on. So, the next time you go out, think about what you don’t think you’ll need so you aren’t left out in the cold in your underwear…

Navigation Training Hike

Every other year, Alpine Rescue Team takes on a new group of prospective members, or PMs and puts them through many months of training on pretty much everything we do.  The goal isn’t to train in the outdoors as much to get used to how we do things so we all do it the same way. Although for navigation, it’s key to learn how to navigate many different ways so you can figure out where you are and how to get where your’ going with a map and compass, GPS using Lat and Long or other datum types, miles, kilometers, meters, feet or iPhone.

Cactus near EvergreenSo, today, we were off to the Colorado Mountain Club’s navigation course near Genesee to practice and work with our PMs to get them a bit more acquainted with navigation.  It was a nice day for a hike around .  It started out cool and breezy and then got a bit warmer. Fortunately, once we got into the trees, the wind was buffered enough so it felt like a really nice, warm spring day – until you left the trees. The sunlight is still a bit harsh for plain old snap and shoot photos, but I got this nice one of a pretty round cactus in the shade.

When I was in Boy Scouts a few years ago (maybe more than a few), the very first merit badge I ever earned was Orienteering.  I like maps and navigating and enjoy watching others learn it and teach it, and of course being outside hiking around while doing it. In Mountain Rescue, it a definite necessity to be able to navigate and find your way around. Avenza PDF MapsWhile you can’t always count on being able to use your iPhone, I for sure had to start looking for navigation apps that I could download.  One of the ones I like is PDF Maps from Avenzaicon.  It has many free 7.5 minute topo maps from around the country.  And while you can enter locations to search for in different formats (Latitude and Longitude, WGS84, UTM and Military Grid Reference System seem to be the ones so far) it’s really good at showing where you are on a topo so you can see where you are and where you might need to go.

I was able to enter a UTM to show where I wanted to go, then turn on the compass, orient it properly and know where I was and where I needed to go.  With the exception of learning how to change my format to UTM and then enter my UTM, it was extremely fast and accurate.  Much more so that the folks plotting our UTM, shooting the bearing and figuring it out on the map.  Of course, I would never trade those skills for a technology solution, but, it’s fun to have. As part of my ongoing gear reviews, I decided to wear my Patagonia Drifter A/C GTX Hiking Shoe which I really like.  Sometimes I tend to not tie my shoes tight enough and I think today was one of those days.  I rushed out of the house so quickly, that they felt a little sloppy and loose. These are my most comfortable shoes that I wear all the time right now and that was probably part of it.  I wear these all the time and they’re breaking in really nicely. 


Because we were on an orientation course and not a trail today, these shoes probably weren’t the best choice.  We were side-hilling a lot and with the shoes being a bit loose, that compounded the sloppy-ness issue.  Tightening them more would certainly have helped, and they’re great for bounding from rock to rock, but on loose hillsides, I’d probably still rather have my favorite boots.

I’m still looking for a great new pair of boots and would love to know what you use!

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