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Search and rescuers recover body of climber who became cliffed out, fell on Kit Carson Peak

Woman called for help on Oct. 11
Body recovery on Kit Carson Peak_Oct 14 2021_Saguache County Search & Rescue
Posted at 7:23 AM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 13:19:37-04

UPDATE — On Oct. 16, search and rescue teams recovered the body of Madeline Baharlou-Quivey, 29, from Kit Carson Peak in Saguache County.


SAGUACHE COUNTY, Colo. — A search team fought "extremely challenging conditions" to locate the body of an experienced climber on Kit Carson Peak this week.

As of Friday morning, her body had not yet been recovered due to poor weather conditions.

On Oct. 11, the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office received a call around 8:18 p.m. about a climber who was off-route and cliffed out below the standard route for Kit Carson Peak, which stands at about 14,165 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Range. The person who called authorities said they had received a message that the climber needed help from search and rescue. The person said the climber is experienced with climbing 14ers and had winter clothing, a bivy sack (a lightweight one-person cover for a sleeping bag) and a good supply of food and water with her. The caller passed along the woman's GPS coordinates, according to Saguache County Search & Rescue.

The climber, identified as Madeline Baharlou-Quivey, 29, was in Class 5 terrain when she called for help.

At the time, Saguache SAR personnel were at a training center and because the climber was in technical terrain, they determined that rescuers trained in winter alpine conditions were needed. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association was notified and made mutual aid requests to other SAR teams in the area. They made a plan to deploy a ground team to Baharlou-Quivey in the pre-dawn hours of the next day, and to use a Blackhawk helicopter with hoist capability, according to Saguache County Search & Rescue.

A winter storm was approaching the area, so the rescuers knew they had a narrow window to find Baharlou-Quivey.

The following morning, the Colorado National Guard deployed the Blackhawk helicopter with rescue technicians from Alpine Rescue Team on board. They searched the area of the GPS coordinates from the previous day, but did not see the woman and the helicopter left to refuel. However, it was unable to return because of poor weather conditions, according to Saguache County Search & Rescue.

Meanwhile, two ground teams were deployed that morning before dawn. They reached the summit of Challenger Peak, which is next to Kit Carson and included in its standard route, but had to turn around due to strong winds, blowing snow, freezing air, and limited visibility.

The Chaffee County Search and Rescue - South team climbed to the bottom of the Kirk Couloir, which splits the two mountains, to see if they could see Baharlou-Quivey from below, or if she was in the upper Willow Creek Basin, which is below both peaks to the northeast. The Chaffee County Search and Rescue - North team searched the Spanish Creek Basin, on the other side of the mountains to the south. They searched the base of the southern slopes to Kit Carson, according to Saguache County Search & Rescue.

Both search efforts were unsuccessful and they had to leave the field due to the wintry weather.

On Oct. 13, search efforts resumed at dawn.

A search and rescue team from Custer County was airlifted from Westcliffe to the Willow Creek Basin to try to summit Challenger Peak, but had to turn around due to thigh-deep snow.

Search and rescue teams from Saguache, Alamosa, and Chaffee Counties, plus the Western Mountain Rescue Team, were airlifted to the Spanish Creek Basin to search the area of Baharlou-Quivey's last coordinates, and the south slopes of Kit Carson.

Around 3 p.m., they spotted the woman and officials determined she had died of an apparent fall, according to Saguache County Search & Rescue.

The Blackhawk pilot attempted to prepare for a hoist operation, but the woman was close to a vertical wall, which made the maneuver unsafe.

Western Mountain Rescue members were able to get within 100 vertical feet of her, but didn't have enough time before nightfall to recover her body.

The rescue teams will attempt to recover her body on Saturday, Oct. 16, and have asked that anyone with plans to climb Kit Carson to please choose an alternate destination or delay those plans by a day, as there will be technical rescuers from four to five Colorado mountain rescue teams on the peak, along with air assets from Northern Colorado Helitack.

"The rescuers will be working in very challenging class five terrain with a high potential for rockfall, and we must make every effort to keep the rescuers safe," an official with Colorado Search and Rescue said Friday. "Your understanding is appreciated."

The sheriff's office said they extended their condolences to the woman's loved ones and thanked those involved in "this mission in extremely challenging conditions."