Climbing leader rescued in Colorado

Only a few days after he talked to WyoFile for the “What Price Rescue?” story about the cost of search-and-rescue in national parks, American Alpine Club executive director Phil Powers suffered a serious fall while climbing above Clear Creek Canyon near Golden, Colo. He was rescued by the Golden Fire Department and taken by helicopter to Denver’s Saint Anthony Hospital, where he was treated for multiple injuries including fractured ribs, shattered vertabrae, a collapsed lung and a broken arm.

Rescuers set up a temporary heliport on Teton Park Road to transport people and rescue dogs to Garnet Canyon during the April search for lost skiers. (National Park Service photo by Jackie Skaggs – click to enlarge)

In the WyoFile interview, Powers, who is also co-owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, suggested that private insurance was one way to defray the cost of expensive rescues. He said that the American Alpine Club, one of the country’s oldest and most respected mountain climbers’ group, had recently begun offering two types of insurance to its members to cover  up to $10,000 in search-and-rescue, including helicopter transport.

Golden Fire chief John Bales said the complicated Powers’ rescue took two hours and more than 23 people including fire personnel, state troopers, Colorado Open Space Rangers and volunteers. The state highway serving the area had to be closed in both directions for two hours to facilitate the rescue. Bales calculated the cost of the operation, not including helicopter, at $2,200. Until two years ago, the Golden Fire Department would have charged Powers for the cost of rescue. But in 2009 the Golden City Council voted to no longer charge for these services because of objections from local climbers. As a result, Bales said, the fire department, which also serves surrounding Jefferson County, attempts to collect from Colorado search and rescue funds from hunting and fishing licenses.

According to Alpine Club spokesman Luke Bauer, Powers was covered in this case by his organization’s recently initiated insurance program.

— WyoFile consulting editor Rone Tempest is a former Los Angeles Times national and foreign correspondent who lives in Lander. Contact him at

Rone Tempest was a longtime national and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. In 2004 he was part of a team of reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the massive wildfires in Southern...

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