COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Skee Hipzsky has lost track of how many times he's hiked up and down Barr Trail.
"You could do it in your sleep, as many times as I've been up the trail," he jokes.
The 12-mile journey to the summit of Pikes Peak is alluring but deceptively difficult. Search and Rescue volunteers like Hipszky climb the trail to reach injured or stranded hikers more often than almost any other place in El Paso County. The top honor belongs to the Manitou Incline.
Hipszky believes the popularity of the trails and lack of planning likely contribute to the workload.
"People are less prepared I think still today as it was back in the day," he said. "They just don't realize what they're getting into and how fast, if something happens, it can go sour on you."
Hipszky, who's legal first name is Istvan, is celebrating 50 years of service with El Paso County Search and Rescue this year. He was 16 when he took part in his first mountain rescue. Skee was hiking 14ers with a group from the Colorado Mountain Club in the southern Sangre de Cristo range.
"We had just finished Windom Peak we were coming down off of Windom to go to the next one when one of the members of our group fell," Hipszky recalls.
The man fell around 100 feet down a steep slope and injured his head. Hipszky and two others stayed with him while the rest of the group hiked back to the Durango-Silverton railroad station to get to town and seek help. Hours later, a helicopter landed in a meadow nearby.
"We improvised a litter out of our packs and stuff, and Doug was picked up, loaded onto the skid of the aircraft, and flown out to the hospital."
Doug survived the accident was was back to mountaineering a few years later. The experience shaped Hipszky's life. He joined El Paso County Search and Rescue two years later.
"This is a perfect match where you get to be outdoors with beautiful countryside, and you get to help people at the same time," Hipszky says.
Over the decades, Hipszsky has helped many people out of difficult situations. The worst rescue came in the spring of 1995. A group of back-country skiers had triggered an avalanche about 100 feet below the summit of Pikes Peak.
"Our purpose was to get to the patient, stabilize, and then we were going to, the team was coming up on the road and we could carry them down to Barr Camp and the helicopter was going to carry them out from there," he recalls.
Mother Nature had other plans. Another winter storm blew in, trapping the group on the peak overnight.
"We had blizzard conditions, we had 70 plus mile-an-hour winds, we had a 10-degree snow ice temperature. It was absolutely miserable overnight on the peak."
A helicopter reached them the next morning. Three of the skiers survived. One did not. Hipszky said the wait itself was treacherous.
"You couldn't tell that an avalanche had occurred. The whole slope was completely filled in with snow and we waited ready for another avalanche, and we're sitting at the bottom of it."
Hipszky credits his parents with shaping his commitment to serving others. They fled Hungary for the US as the Iron Curtain enveloped Eastern Europe.
"You know, my dad was always helping neighbors if they needed something done, lawn mowed, car work, you know whatever; he was there. He didn't expect anything for it. So, I think it's just something I was raised with."
And Southern Colorado is safer today thanks to that strong commitment to serving others.
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