Colorado: My daughter’s car is stuck

Thursday, June 16th, 2023, at 2:11 p.m. (CDT), a request for help with an offroad recovery was received in Colorado. Our administrator for Colorado, Kanan Best, handled the ticket, verified the information and passed it to volunteers.

The information provided by the requester, Michael Abarelli, read: “In need of some help (as of Thursday afternoon). My daughter’s car is stuck in the Gold Hill area on Switzerland Trail. Vehicle: Grey 2016 Toyota Highlander.
Location: Approx GPS Locn: 40.05753, -105.47903. The car is stuck on the right shoulder of an unmaintained forest service road. The road has really tight access, allowing only single-file passage with limited maneuvering space. Currently, there is nobody on site with the car. I picked up the kids late last night but was unable to move the vehicle. Driving Directions: Go west from Gold Hill on Gold Hill Road. At the Switzerland Trail, turn right / north and proceed about 1.5 to 2.0 miles back. The car is stuck before the trails folks off to the left up that very steep incline (if you know the area).

Position: The vehicle is positioned with its passenger tires on the shoulder/grassy area while the driver’s tires remain on the road. The car is tilted approximately 20 degrees to the right, with most of its weight resting on the outside/passenger set of tires in the grass. I believe the car is center pointed with the oil pan in contact with the road surface/shoulder.

Note: The car is tilted to a degree where the outside edge of the driver-side tires is not touching the road surface. I didn’t attempt to move the vehicle last night as I was concerned the vehicle could tip over or slide down a steep incline to the right. The car is wedged against a tree that is in contact with the car’s right passenger side quarter panel. This tree may be preventing the car from potentially rolling down the incline. I live in Longmont and can reach the stranded car within the hour.”

From the list of volunteers contacted, three got engaged right away: Kerry Garrison, Nicholas Albright, and Rockwell Goodale. Their ETA was 5:10 p.m. The recovery was completed at 6:45 p.m. It required all 3 recovery rigs.

Later Nicholas sent us a full report. Thanks to all volunteers involved. Spectacular job.

Full Report

Date of Incident: June 15, 2023
Dispatch Time: 1511 hrs
Arrival Time: 1700 hrs
Time of Recovery Completion: 18:45 hrs
Ticket Closure: 19:39 hrs

Location: Switzerland Trail, Gold Hill Side

Members involved: 4 (Nicholas & Noel (YT: @PepperAndMintOffroad), Kerry (YT: @TrailTraveler), Rock)
Equipment Used: 3 Rigs, 2 Winches, Snatch rings, Tree savers, Land Anchor, soft shackles

Summary of Events:
At approximately 1511 hrs, our off-road recovery team was alerted about a 2016 Toyota Highlander that had drifted into the soft vegetation and had slid off the road, resting against a tree on the passenger side. With limited road contact on the driver’s side, the vehicle was at risk of rolling.

All team members were an hour away and decided to convene at the trailhead, each traveling from separate directions. By 1700 hrs, the team was on scene, with a meeting and game plan completed at 1710 hrs. Rigging and recovery efforts commenced at 1715 hrs.

The reporting party (RP) and a family member, the original driver of the Toyota, met our crew on the Gold Hill side of Switzerland Trail and guided us to the site of the incident. The vehicle was found leaning against an Aspen tree, which is known to have a high root system and poor anchorage, especially on sloping terrain and in rain. Weather conditions on the trail were muddy with rain imminent, adding an extra layer of complexity to the recovery effort. In this situation the risk of serious injury to the driver and passengers during the initial incident was very high. A few feet in either direction could have had a very different outcome. We are thankful no one was injured. 

The recovery operation involved using three rigs to winch the vehicle sideways back onto the roadway. This process was time-intensive (slow going) due to challenging trail conditions and the lack of solid trees to serve as reliable anchors. 

Because there were no recovery points on this vehicle, and we had to pull sideways to get back on the roadway, we pulled directly from the wheels.

Once back on the road, the vehicle was operable, and the RP was able to drive it away from the scene, a solid 15 minutes before the rain hit. 

Damage Report:
The vehicle sustained cosmetic damage to the front quarter panel when it came into contact with the Aspen tree. No mechanical damage was reported, as the vehicle was able to descend the mountain under its own power.

Lessons Learned: 
Team was well equipped for this recovery, though we needed to be dynamic and change rigging many times to get solid recovery points that would not damage the local ecosystem or further damage the vehicle. 

Always wheel with another vehicle. In this situation the driver was headed up for a camping trip and only had one vehicle. 
Luckily for the RP’s family, a nearby camper had StarLink and they were able to call for help, however a Satellite communications device is encouraged for all back country travel.
While the vehicle was equipped to handle this trail, it did not have any reliable recovery points. A set of traction boards may have helped them regain control of the vehicle in the early stages of this event, before they were at risk of roll over. 

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