Colorado teens Tommy Hendricks and Matt Smith were successfully rescued from an area near Mount of the Holy Cross on the day before Thanksgiving. The two teens had spent a few days in the backcountry after becoming lost due to whiteout conditions which set in with a storm front that blanketed most of the west.
The pair have had several successful summits of other 14ers in Colorado and boast a solid resumé of rock and mountain climbing. They set out for their objective of summiting the 14,005 foot Mount of the Holy Cross late Sunday afternoon and after spending the night they pushed for the summit during a storm on Monday, which they reached at 7 pm that night.
“I have a feeling they were very unprepared for the weather. They’re out there in the cold, and I don’t know how they are.”
–Peggy Hendricks, Tommy’s mother
The two teens claim that their reasoning for summiting during the whiteout conditions was to gain cellular capabilities- which are nonexistent in the shadow of the mountain- and hopefully improve their chance of survival. Having already gone so far, it seemed the more viable option to contact help from the top instead of attempting to return to the bottom.
However, reports state that the pair contacted their parents at 7 pm to inform them of their successful summit and their plans for descent. Search and Rescue authorities were not contacted until Tuesday by the family members who had lost contact with the teens.
Search and Rescue teams had an unsuccessful Tuesday search due to poor weather preventing most help from taking to the air, but Wednesday morning lots of help regrouped for the rescue. Accompanied by 35 search and rescue members and several aircraft, including a fixed wing plane and a black hawk helicopter from the Colorado National Guard, the rescue teams discovered the high schoolers camped out at Harvey Lake located about 4,000 vertical feet and few miles below the summit.
“This is a hell of a Thanksgiving present. This is marvelous. This is a win, win, win, win — how many times do I need to say it — win. Coming the day before Thanksgiving? It’s great for us.”
-Dan Smith, aviation coordinator for the Vail Mountain Rescue Group
The duo was successfully extracted from the mountain and hospitalized for safety’s sake having only sustained frostbite on their feet. Smith attributes their survival to proper gear such as headlamps and the ability to make a fire as the temperature dropped down to single digits during their extended stay in the backcountry.