American wildlife photographer Carl McCunn famously sealed his fate when he unsuccessfully tried to flag down much-needed help from an Alaskan State Trooper who was flying over his remote campsite in August 1981. It turns out McCunn’s desperate hand signals actually meant, ‘All ok’. The plane never returned, and neither did McCunn.

Colorado rescuers mistake friendly wave for distress signal
Town by of Breckenridge, Colorado. Photo by Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty

Thankfully, not knowing your ‘hellos’ from your ‘helps’ doesn’t always have such deadly consequences. Earlier this week three teams of six rescuers from Summit County Rescue Group were called to Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s renowned fourteeners (a mountain with a summit over 14,000ft), to save two men who were reported to have been in distress and potentially ‘cliffed out’ on the upper reaches of the mountain. Armed with ropes and other retrieval gear, the teams made their way up Quandary only to discover that there was no such situation.

In speaking with hikers descending the trail, the teams came to the humorous realisation that the ‘distress’ signals were just friendly shouts and waves from two Canadians climbing the mountain. The rescue teams were rather good-natured about the situation, stating on their Facebook page:

Friendly Canadians spark rescue mission on Quandary Peak
The snow-covered Quandary Peak, Colorado. Photo by: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty Images

“The learning point, if there is one, is that...well, hey, we love friendly Canadians, or any other friendly hikers, just as much as the next guy. But it might be a good idea to make sure that your wave doesn't look like a distress signal. The good news is that it was a lovely fall day for a hike on Quandary.”

Quandary Peak, the highest summit of the Tenmile Range, is located near Breckenridge. Although the standard route up the mountain is considered beginner-friendly, rising 3400ft (1036m) in a little over 3 miles (5km), risks include altitude sickness and exposure to inclement weather. 

Explore related stories

A woman hiking above Boulder, Colorado


The best day trips from Boulder promise Rocky Mountain adventure

Nov 29, 2021 • 7 min read