KSDK - The two hikers who found themselves trapped on Colorado's Longs Peak for multiple days last week in the midst of what would later be called a 500-year storm published a blog post on Tuesday recounting their harrowing journey.
Suzanne Turell and Connie Yang, who graduated from Parkway Central High School, set out on Sept. 6 on a seven day backcountry hike that circled Rocky Mountain National Park. The last three days of the journey were partially off-trail, they wrote in the post.
"Before we begin, we discussed the entire trip with the RMNP backcountry office, reviewing the five-day weather forecast for the park and specifically for Longs Peak," they wrote.
They brought a small backpacking tent, a two-person sleeping bag, ultra-light sleeping pads, long underwear, warm mid-layers, thin puffy down jackets, hats, socks, headlamps, first aid, a GPS device, multiple maps, a camera, cell phone and spare batteries along on the journey.
For the first few days, the weather held up. But on Sept. 9, it took a turn for the worse. On Sept. 10, the harsh conditions continued, and the they cross-country hiked over a steep pass and around below Keplinger's Couloir, at 11,500 feet.
On Sept. 11, they were scheduled to climb over Longs Peak and descend to a campsite at Boulder Field, a popular route that includes scrambling above tree-line on a scree-filled gully to a landmark known as the Keyhole.
That morning, they said that visibility was poor, and though they hike was difficult and there was little visibility, they said they felt confident that they could reach the Keyhole and descend to a nearby campsite.
They searched for hours for the point that leads to the Keyhole. Due to cloud cover, they said their GPS was unreliable, and they found themselves at the edge of 200-foot cliffs, forcing them to down-climb. By the end of the day, they were soaking wet, very cold and shivering, and no closer to their campsite.
"Even if we found the entrance immediately," they wrote, "we would be attempting the most exposed part of the route under extremely dangerous conditions while suffering from the initial stages of hypothermia."
Ultimately, they decided to camp on a small rock ledge at 13,400 feet. After a couple of hours, rain turned into sleet and snow, which piled up on their tent, testing its durability.
"For the rest of the night, we made sure to clear snow off the tent about every 15 minutes and bolster it against the heaviest winds," they wrote. "During the night, we combed maps and GPS and discussed out options."
The next morning brought even more bad luck, this time in the form of a lightning storm.
"...the number of potential serious and life-threatening situations became clear," the blog post reads. "We had no idea whether the highly unusual weather would continue or even worsen. Though we were prepared to wait out the storm, we also realized we were one bad event away from complete disaster."
And conditions continued to get worse.
"Everything was covered with ice," they wrote. "Visibility was non-existent. Most of our gear was wet, and we were still shivering uncontrollably. We had no way to know how long the weather would last."
Their cell phone had died the day before from the cold, but they were able to warm it up and text as much as they could about t heir predicament to Yang's sister. Though the texts ultimately were received, all Yang and Turell saw were error messages.
"We need help. At top of Longs Peak. 13400 feet. Whiteout snow storm," a text from Turell said.
"No injuries. Ice over risk of hypothermia. On south ridge," another text said.
"No battery. Yellow tent. We are off trail," a third text read.
Yang and Turell decided to sit tight, and to wait for help to come. Meanwhile, the rest of Colorado was being ravaged by historic floods, which have since left eight people dead and thousands of homes utterly destroyed.
"If we had crampons and a working GPS, it might have been a different story," they wrote. "Walking could have warmed us up eventually and helped dry out our clothing. But the forecast and research beforehand hadn't led us to expect winter conditions. The weather had predicted thunderstorms, but this was much worse."
Hoping their cries for help had reached their family, they did what they could to improve their positions in their current location, knowing that they would be rescued until conditions improved. Conditions did improve as the day progressed, and snow and ice began to melt over the peak.
This forced them to make a new decision.
"We knew this was a lucky break," they wrote. "...we agonized over leaving our last known location, since a rescue might possibly be underway, but we didn't even know for sure that our messages had gotten through."
Using a photo of a hand-drawn, no-scale map they'd taken from the backcountry office, they saw a lake and a stream in the area below them, and beyond that, a ranger station with an emergency telephone.
On the afternoon of Sept .12, they tried to descend to the ranger station, climbing down a washed out gully and bushwhacking through a gully. Despite the exertion, they were still shivering uncontrollably, and decided to set up camp for the night.
At first light, they continued onwards, ultimately finding the ranger station. Because of the storm, all of the roads leading to the park were shut down, forcing Yang and Turell to leave the park in ATVs.
"There's always risk when heading to the mountains," they wrote. "...We hope that what we faced will not discourage others from heading to the mountains, but remind everyone of the importance of planning carefully, bringing the right equipment and making careful choices."
For resources to help the victims of Colorado's floods, head here: http://on.ksdk.com/1aHTQcC.