Resident gets stuck on Fish Creek Falls

Search and Rescue says man was not a skilled climber


— Routt County Search and Rescue members Jamie Neault and Mike Hirshman rappelled down the face of Fish Creek Falls late Friday afternoon to successfully pluck a Steamboat man from the 90-foot cliff.

Cameron Billingsley, 19, was scrambling alone on the wet rocks next to the falls without equipment when he apparently reached a point that he felt unsafe climbing further, or descending the cliff.

Billingsley was uninjured and was not transported to the hospital after his rescue.

"He knew he was in trouble," Hirshman said. "I think he was just stuck there (about 50 feet up the cliff). He wasn't asking for help. But people had been watching him there for a while, and he hadn't moved."

Hirshman, who is employed by Steamboat Springs Ambulance, and does double duty as a Search and Rescue volunteer, arrived on the scene with Emergency Medical Technician Jeanne Power. They climbed to the top of the falls, but could not communicate with Billingsley over the sound of the rushing water.

Search and Rescue personnel rigged fixed ropes from several anchor points on the south side of the falls. Hirshman descended a rope first to check on the medical condition of the trapped man. After ascertaining that Billingsley was uninjured, Hirshman moved aside while Search and Rescue's Jamie Neault descended on a double rope system. After fixing himself and Billingsley to both ropes, Neault brought the man to the top.

Sandy Witte, who served as incident commander for the rescue, said Billingsley is originally from Washington state and has lived here for about a year. He is employed as a restaurant worker, and expressed some anxiety about being late for work Friday night, she added.

Hirshman said over his years as a Search and Rescue volunteer, he's seen far worse results when unskilled climbers are tempted to scramble on the rocks at Fish Creek Falls.

"It's the same spot where we've picked up several severely injured people," Hirshman said. He explained that in the past, people have scrambled to about the same spot Billingsley was in on the cliff and lost their footing, falling 30 to 50 feet to a rocky ledge, then bouncing to the next ledge.

Routt County Search and Rescue trains for just this type of emergency and even hosted a training session for search and rescue organizations from around the state at Fish Creek Falls last summer.

"He looked like he was having a good time scrambling around on the wet rocks and it became too dangerous to go up, and too dangerous to go down," Hirshman said of Billingsley. "There's a lot of loose rock. It was wet and it was loose."

When the call of a man in distress at Fish Creek Falls came into Routt County Combined Communications, the reporting party told the dispatcher that the stranded man had no climbing gear and was wearing shorts and a tank top.

Hirshman said Search and Rescue was called out at 3 p.m. He said he had to weave his ambulance through alleys in Old Town Steamboat because Lincoln Avenue was blocked to traffic during Friday's cattle drive.


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