Fire Was Key to Shuei Kato's Rescue After Going Missing on 14er

A photo of Shuei Kato shared by the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office.
A photo of Shuei Kato shared by the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office. Facebook
Update: Shuei Kato, also known as Shuei Pako, has been found safe three days after he was due to return from an effort to summit Mt. Missouri in Chaffee County, and early reports suggest that a fire was key to his survival.

At this writing, the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office hasn't posted about the rescue on its Facebook page, and Kato hasn't weighed in on that platform, either. However, the Summit County Daily quotes Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze as saying that a fire in the drainage area for Pine Creek east of Mt. Missouri was spotted by personnel in a helicopter around noon yesterday, October 10. The conflagration led rescuers to Kato.

As noted in our previous coverage, on view below, Kato, who's from Silverthorne, was due back home after summiting Mt. Missouri on October 7. A large-scale search was conducted on October 8 without success, and a return the next day was postponed due to a fierce winter storm. These circumstances make the survival of Kato that much more remarkable, since he's said to have only had a coat and implements to start a fire with him.

Continue for our earlier item.

Original post, 5:48 a.m. October 10: It's been an especially deadly year on Colorado's fourteeners, with at least ten deaths statewide, including five on Capitol Peak, in the Elk Mountains range, over a 43-day period during the summer. Now, authorities in Chaffee County are trying to avoid adding to that total. This morning, October 10, rescuers are expected to set out in an attempt to find Shuei Kato, a Silverthorne businessman and adventurer who didn't return from a weekend effort to summit Mt. Missouri. The search had to be delayed for a day because of a winter storm that just struck the more elevated portions of the state.

The Chaffee County Sheriff's Office has been referring to the missing man as Shuei Pako, but he's identified on Facebook as Shuei Kato. He owns Retro Games Japan, a Silverthorne business that mostly operates via mail order.

On his personal Facebook page, Kato has been posting about his experiences regarding a number of other fourteeners in the state. On September 16, for instance, he posted a photo along with this note: "First snow of the season at Mt. Sherman. Summited but it was windy and cold!" One week later, on September 23, he had conquered another of Colorado's most beautiful peaks, as he noted in this caption: "Winter is here in the mountains. We made it to the summit of Mt. Columbia today. Rainy and snowy with lots of wind but it was worth it for the views." And the following week, on September 30, came this item: "Celebrating 14th 14er. Mt. Yale... Well maintained trail with great view!!"

Here's a Kato video from Mt. Yale:

As his Facebook writings indicate, Kato was acutely aware of the impact of weather on those trying to summit fourteeners, and that's important, as stressed by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative's Lloyd Athearn in our post headlined "Colorado 14ers: Tips for Staying Safe." Indeed, three of Athearn's first four pieces of advice reproduced below deal with meteorological conditions:
Number 2: Watch the skies

Athearn points out that "weather and lightning-related hazards occur regularly. Most people are out on the fourteeners in July and August, which coincides with the monsoon season, when there are almost daily intense thunderstorms. So people should get an early start to maximize the likelihood that they'll be climbing in good weather and won't be subject to the general afternoon thunderstorms."

Number 3: Even an early start may not be early enough

The caveat to tip two above is that "the weather gods don't have watches," Athearn concedes. "So lightning and thunder can come at any time of the day. A lot of people buy into the notion that, 'If I'm off the mountain by noon, I'll be okay.' But there can be lightning at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. Most storms come in the afternoon, but there's no guarantee they won't pop up. So when I'm on the mountains, I have my head on a swivel, looking to see if clouds are building or getting really dark. If they are, it's time to go down, no matter what time it says on my watch."

Number 4: Snow can arrive ahead of schedule

Even if the weather is warm in town, it can be cold enough to produce snow at the top of a fourteener, even at this time of year. That's why checking snow conditions is a must. The online resources for doing so include the National Weather Service's Colorado fourteeners page.

"With snow conditions, you need to approach it with the mindset of, 'The mountain's going to be there tomorrow,'" Athearn points out. "If anything doesn't seem right, back off."
On October 7, when Kato set off for Mt. Missouri, graded a class 2 fourteener by the invaluable online resource 14ers.com, conditions were favorable, and a Chaffee County Sheriff's Office release indicates that everything seemed fine at first. Indeed, the person who alerted CCSO reps is quoted as saying that Kato successfully summited Mt. Missouri on the morning of the 7th and was expected to return to Silverthorne that same afternoon. But Kato didn't arrive as scheduled.

click to enlarge
In this Facebook photo, shared on September 30, Shuei Kato celebrates reaching the summit of Mt. Yale.
Within hours, a search was set in motion, with 45 individuals on the ground and three helicopters taking part on October 8. Their efforts were suspended by nightfall, and plans to start again the next day were put on hold by what was described as "a large cold front with possible blizzard conditions" that was "due to arrive in the Collegiate Peaks Range."

Plenty of people wanted to lend a hand anyhow, prompting the CCSO to post a supplementary message: "At this time, we are not asking for any additional volunteers. In these weather conditions, your safety would be a major concern. We understand the desire to help, but we have professional, knowledgeable, expert Search and Rescue members who are searching for this hiker."

One Facebook commenter seconded this emotion. "There are a LOT of posts on social media asking for help with this search," she wrote. "Please DO NOT attempt to search on your own. The search was called off by people trained to make these hard decisions to avoid putting others in harms way. There is a serious winter storm dumping snow in the high country. Please leave this to the professionals!!!"

Now that the storm has passed through the state, searchers are reportedly scheduled to head back out shortly, in the hopes of a happy conclusion like the one that ended with Joseph Seeds being safely rescued from Capitol Peak last month. In the meantime, the friends, family and loved ones of Shuei Kato are holding on to hope that this vibrant man will be found alive, well and ready to take on more fourteeners down the line.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts