County search and rescue crews, helped by Arizona Snowbowl Snow Cat drivers, rescued three Flagstaff residents trying to summit Humphreys Peak during Thursday's snowstorm.
"They described themselves as experienced climbers and they were going on a hike," said Sgt. Aaron Dick, coordinator for Coconino County Search and Rescue.
As a result, and because of extreme avalanche danger, the entire Kachina Peaks Wilderness has been closed by Coconino National Forest officials to backcountry travel until further notice.
The trio of climbers had left the Snowbowl at about 11 a.m. and began heading for the summit, Dick said. They had climbed past the old bomber wreck in a location called Dutchman. When the trio climbed past 11,000 feet to 12,000 feet, the weather forced them back.
As they headed down, the three became disoriented about where the Humphreys Trail and the Snowbowl were.
A friend of the three called for help at about 6:30 p.m., when the hikers were considered overdue, Dick said. County search and rescue crews, coordinating with the ski area Snow Cat groomers, had the Snow Cats line up in the general area of the three turned their lights on in an attempt to guide them in.
The plan worked, and the hikers made it to the Snow Cats at about 10 p.m., Dick said. They had been dressed for the conditions, but they did not have adequate navigational tools. None of the three had a free Kachina Peaks Wilderness backcountry pass.
"While they were out there, they reported signs of very unstable snow," Dick said.
He added that based on the nature of the snowpack and the amount of snow that has fallen in such a short amount of time, avalanche danger is considered "extreme."