An Iowa woman last week may have succumbed to the harsh elements of the high country if it were not for an outfitting group that found her nearly hypothermic, exhausted and disoriented in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.
Ian McLendon, co-owner of Independence Pass Outfitting Co., said he and his team on Thursday were miles deep into the East Maroon drainage on their way to set up a camp for their hunting clients when he heard a faint cry for help around noon.
The group followed the sound until they reached a 59-year-old woman who was lying in an avalanche debris pile, wearing blue jeans that were wet from stream crossings and a cotton sweatshirt. It was snowing, and she told them she hadn’t had any food or water for hours. She explained to McLendon that she had gotten separated from her husband and was lost.
“She said she was without water or food for hours,” McLendon said. “We were in the middle of nowhere.”
Although she told McLendon she was afraid of horses, the woman, identified as Elsie Henry of Iowa, reluctantly got in the saddle and rode to the outfitting company’s hunting camp, where she was provided with warm, dry clothes, a fire, and food and water.
While the outfitters unloaded their supplies and prepared the camp for the hunters who will be guided there on Friday, Henry, perhaps still disoriented, came out of the wall tent and told the group she felt better and wanted to hike out. McLendon said he told her that she was hours from civilization, that she was in bear country and she could die if she went by herself.
“It would have been a fiasco,” McLendon said.
Reluctantly, Henry saddled up once again and rode to safety at the trailhead, where she and the group were met at about 6:30 p.m. by Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies and her husband, Leonard Henry.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Renee Rayton said Leonard Henry called the emergency dispatch center at 4:20 p.m. reporting that his wife had not returned from their morning hike. Personnel from Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) were notified of the overdue hiker and were preparing to go into the field.
At about 5:35 p.m., a White River National Forest campground host told authorities that he had seen her earlier in the day. At 5:50 p.m., authorities noticed Independence Pass Outfitting Co. trailers at the East Maroon trailhead, and a staffer with the company who was in the parking lot told authorities his colleagues were bringing Elsie Henry down.