mt. elbert search and rescue
14,400-ft. Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak; (photo/Robert Waltman)

Lost Hiker Ignored Search-and-Rescue Calls Because Phone Said ‘Unknown’

A hiker, lost near Colorado’s highest peak, kept hitting the ‘decline’ button on calls from an unknown number. Answering the phone could have saved a lot of trouble for all parties involved.

On Oct. 18, a person was reported missing while hiking on Mount Elbert, near Leadville, Colo. The individual was pursued by Lake County Search and Rescue workers until late on Oct. 19. At some point, the hiker returned from the outing unharmed.

But the hiker, who was not named by the Lake County SAR, could have saved a lot of effort by answering an “unknown caller” on their phone, which turned out to be none other than the local search-and-rescue department.

In a statement, Lake County SAR said it received an overdue hiker report on Mount Elbert at 8 p.m. After multiple failed attempts to contact them on their cell phone, the department deployed search personnel around 10 p.m.

Stock photo.

They searched “high probability areas” but did not locate the subject, and left the field at approximately 3 a.m. on the 19th. At 7 a.m., three LCSAR members resumed the search in a different area where hikers commonly lose the trail.

Then at 9:30 a.m., the caller who had filed the initial overdue hiker report told LCSAR that the subject had “returned to their place of lodging.” Half an hour later, all SAR personnel had left the field.

Responding to authorities, the hiker said they had lost the trail around nightfall, then spent the intervening hours looking for it before finally reaching their car.

“They had no idea that SAR was out looking for them,” LCSAR’s statement said. “One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number.”

Advice? If You’re Lost, Answer the Phone

The Mount Elbert hiker’s error is obvious: if you’re lost and the phone rings, answer it — it might be someone trying to help you.

LCSAR pointed out the mistake but advised that common sense doesn’t always win out in emergency situations.

“Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking,” the statement said.

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, Yosemite Search and Rescue operator Christian Black told GearJunkie you should always communicate with SAR if you can.

“If you have cell service, it’s a huge help to just call SAR,” Black said. “It’s highly useful to have some two-way communication. That way, you can explain the situation so they can respond appropriately and give definitive help.”

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Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson is a staff writer at GearJunkie, and several other All Gear websites.

He has been writing about climbing, cycling, running, wildlife, outdoor policy, the outdoor industry, vehicles, and more for 2 years. Prior to GearJunkie, he owned and operated his own business before freelancing at GearHungry. Based in Austin, Texas, Anderson loves to climb, boulder, road bike, trail run, and frequent local watering holes (of both varieties).