There’s always a level of danger present in high-altitude mountaineering, especially as winter weather hits.
Nick Noland, of Colorado Springs, experienced the full force of this risk on Oct. 22, when a dusk descent of 14,232-foot Mount Shavano left him lost and stranded on the peak overnight.
After taking a break at the summit of the mountain, Noland started his descent looking for a shortcut trail that is known to lead back to the main trail. As daylight waned and temperatures continued to drop, Noland became disoriented and subsequently lost. According to his wife, Maggie Noland, his survival instinct pushed him to continue down the mountain, as each time he stopped “it felt as if his body was shutting down.”
During this time, search and rescue teams scoured the area to no result.
It wasn’t until 5 a.m. the next morning that Noland self-rescued, somehow finding his way back to the trailhead despite exhaustion, darkness, and major injuries due to the cold weather. After his arrival at the trailhead, he was transported to the UCHealth Burn and Frostbite Center with frostbite on both feet.
Due to the severity of the frostbite, both of his feet had to be removed. A second surgery will remove both legs below the knees.
An Eagle Scout and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Noland is an experienced outdoorsman. He’s also a husband and the father of two sons, ages 3 and 1.
In the days following Noland’s accident, the outdoor recreation community has reached out in a big way. A donation page set up to aid the family in their time of need has already organized meals for 22 days and raised over $9,000. Find that page here.
Noland started his hike from the Blank Gulch trailhead using an out-and-back route that is approximately 5 miles each way, gaining more than 4,000 feet in elevation.
Noland wants his story of survival to send a message of safety promotion to others hoping to “bag” summits on Colorado’s many beautiful peaks. Though awe-inspiring, the mountains can also be a dangerous place where preparation, experience, and luck can mean the difference between life and death. If you’re planning to hike in Colorado, make sure you know your route, always tell someone where you’re headed and when you’ll be back, and plan ahead for a range of conditions and contingencies.
Summiting a fourteener in winter weather conditions is not for the beginner, as even experienced mountaineers encounter difficulties during these colder, snowy months. Trails are harder to find, weather is more severe, and conditions are less predictable. Only consider climbing Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in winter weather conditions if you have the proper gear and experience to do so.