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Monument staff, supported by county resources including the Los Alamos Police and Fire Departments, were involved in two rescues in the last two weeks - one of a couple on Saturday May 4 and the other of a group last Friday.
In both cases, the lost parties were rescued safely. Around midnight on Saturday, the Los Alamos Police Department’s dispatch received a call from a couple in Bandelier’s backcountry. The couple had planned to hike the 15 mile loop from Ponderosa campground to Yapashi Pueblo and back to Frijoles Canyon where they had parked a second car. They hiked through the strenuous Alamo and Lummis Canyons before sunset but as it got dark the couple realized they could not find their way without flashlights and called 911.
After the call was received, police officers contacted the monument’s Chief Ranger and crews gathered in Frijoles Canyon to begin the search. Before hiking to the couple, police were able to get in touch with them on their cell phone. They were in good condition with food and water but were getting cold. Searchers were able to deduce that the couple was on the trail between Lummis and Frijoles Canyon. Around 1:15 am two Los Alamos County police officers hiked into the backcountry and made contact with the couple at 2:28 am.
Police guided the couple back to Frijoles Canyon where the Los Alamos County Fire Department had an ambulance waiting in case of emergency. No care was needed when the couple arrived in Frijoles Canyon around 3:30 am. The hikers stated that they had done the same route 30 years ago and expected to be out by daylight. After at least one wrong turn and the fact that they had underestimated the difficulty of traversing Alamo Canyon, they stopped due to the darkness.
At that point the couple decided they would have to spend the night and were preparing to build a makeshift shelter when they realized they did not have the clothing or materials to camp.
That search and rescue follows another incident that occurred last Friday April 26. In last weekend’s search and rescue, a group attempted to navigate from the bottom of Alamo Canyon to mid to upper Alamo Canyon. They ended up running out of food and water and called 911.
A monument law enforcement officer was contacted by the Los Alamos County Police Department and monument staff were able to contact the group by cell phone. The group described their location to the officer allowing him to direct the group back to the mid Alamo Canyon trail. The monument’s law enforcement officer hiked to reach the group before sunset. The group, replenished with food and water, were hiked in by the officer, and they were able to walk out on their own.
Safety is extremely important when hiking at Bandelier National Monument or in any wilderness area. If planning a hike make sure you are prepared with plenty of food and water, officials warn. Bandelier staff suggests at a minimum carrying 4 quarts of water per person per day for backcountry hikes. Also, hikers must anticipate the difficulty of their planned hike. Both of the recent search and rescues were a result of hikers underestimating the time and effort it would take to complete a hike.
Bandelier highly recommends researching each hike by looking at a topographic map and speaking with Park Rangers at the monument visitor center to learn about current conditions. Once hiking, continually check the time to see how fast you are walking and how many hours of sunlight are left. Even if you've only planned a long day hike, bring gear with you that will protect you if you need to stay overnight.
Always dress appropriately for varying weather conditions. Although, both groups were reachable by cell phone, because of the canyon and mesa topography, cell service is not guaranteed and it may be difficult to reach emergency services.