Over 15,000 people a year try to tackle the famed 14,115-foot Pikes Peak on foot, but if you don't think you'll have the legs to make it down, you might want to reconsider. As of this past Sunday, the city council of Colorado Springs voted to charge a $100 minimum fine to all uninjured hikers who call 911 hoping for an easy trip down.
It sounds preposterous, but Pikes Peak is by far Colorado's most popular 14er, and perhaps the most popular single mountain in the U.S.—which means all stripes of unseasoned, out-of-shape climbers with starry visions of summit glory make poorly planned attempts on the big mountain. Reg Francklyn, spokesman for El Paso County Search and Rescue, estimates that about 6 uninjured people a year get tired or panic and call them for a "taxi mission."
"SAR has been involved in the past in these taxi missions, where someone calls and says, 'I'm cold, I'm tired, what do I do,' and we've gone up to go get them," Francklyn tells BACKPACKER. "It eventually became an onerous task that got us away from our primary mission of emergency rescue, so we pushed it on to Peak Patrol, the city's law enforcement arm on the mountain."
Highway officials didn't return calls to confirm how many calls they get from pooped hikers, but it was enough to motivate officials to take aim at lazy hikers' wallets. Fines can go up to as high as $500 for winter rescues, where highway officials might have to employ snowplows and graders to pick up in-over-their-head trampers.
"They've been frustrated by people leaving late, and people going 'what the heck' and making a go of it against good judgment and advice," he says. "It is about enforcing personal responsibility. Sadly, some people don't plan very well. But the city will try to have good signage so people will know what they're in for if they can't make it down on their own."
But hikers on Pikes in serious emergency situations needn't worry: El Paso County SAR has their back, free of charge. Along with the governing Colorado Search and Rescue Board, they've decided to never charge for rescue services (unlike some SAR groups).
"When you frame it with the idea of a local government strapped for money and resources, you can understand why they might want (unprepared hikers) to compensate the city for the time and trouble, but we won't take a position and we don't charge for what we do," Francklyn says. "When it comes to emergency response, as soon as you're off the highway, El Paso County SAR has the jurisdiction, and we'll never charge for rescue."
With over 100 calls a year and 20-30 bonafide search missions a year, it's probably safe to say wilderness hikers can count on quality help if they need it. Just don't expect the same treatment for your car.
"We still get similar missions—stuck motorists off 4x4 roads, things like that," he says. "We'll take those on because there's a chance that it could be a life-threatening mission. We'll take you, but not your vehicle; that's still your problem, unfortunately. Some people look really surprised when we rescue them and tell them that."
Image Credit: "Rescue On Pikes Peak," Reg Francklyn