Man rescued after fall

Rescuers use ropes to extricate fallen climber from base of waterfall

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A 19-year-old Pittsburgh man was rescued from the base of Fish Creek Falls on Tuesday afternoon after he fell about 40 feet from the rock face Monday. The man, who was discovered by vacationers late Tuesday morning, told them he spent the night alone with his injuries.

The man's name was not confirmed by emergency personnel at the time of his rescue. He was being treated in the emergency department at Yampa Valley Medical Center at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Emergency medical personnel from Steamboat Springs Fire Department and volunteers from Routt County Search and Rescue responded to the scene shortly before noon. Search and Rescue personnel rigged a system of ropes and pulleys that allowed them to ferry the victim in a Stokes basket above boulder-strewn Fish Creek. From the bridge, the basket was transferred to a trailer pulled by an ATV that took him to the parking lot at the trailhead and a waiting ambulance. The victim was on his way to the hospital at about 2 p.m., about two hours after crews were paged.

Jamie Neault of Search and Rescue said the rope system enhanced the safety of the victim and the rescuers. It was anchored to a large pine tree upstream and to a span of the bridge about 250 feet away.

"We tightened it up and slid him on down," Neault said.

Search and Rescue's Russ Sanford said the team used two sets of ropes known as "guiding lines." The first stretched about 150 between two trees in the stream. The second, which delivered the victim to the bridge, was between 250 and 270 feet long.

Search and Rescue has practiced drills with that setup between the tree and the bridge during training sessions, Sanford added.

The victim was not visible from the footbridge over Fish Creek, and it was only by chance that people climbing over boulders at the base of the falls came upon him at about 10:30 a.m.

"We were exploring. My wife's a photographer, and she was taking a lot of pictures," Tim Gregory of Houston said.

"Another guy and his girlfriend found him. When we got to him, he said it hurt here, here and here," Gregory added, pointing to his collarbone, arm and left leg.

Gregory said the man's shirt was blood-soaked above the waistline to the left rear. There was a distinct protrusion just above his left knee that had not broken the skin.

The man was conscious and able to speak, but grim-faced.

"He was sitting with his back to a rock right at the edge of the water. He said he had been there all night," Gregory said. "He said he got separated from friends."

Because he was not visible from the footbridge and could not be heard over the roaring water, the victim's first efforts to attract attention Tuesday morning were unsuccessful.

"He saw people earlier in the morning, but they couldn't hear him," Gregory said.

Stuart and Sara Marks, of Flagstaff, Ariz., and their son Aaron, 22, were among the first to contact the victim. They formed the same impression that the Gregorys had -- that the man had suffered an injury to his left leg, above the knee. They said the man was calm, but subdued when they offered him a water bottle.

"He had no ropes, no backpack, no nothing," Stuart Marks said. "He was wearing long pants and a shirt with a collar."

Other people on the scene said the victim did not appear to be wearing specialized rock climbing shoes, but instead, casual athletic shoes.

Sanford confirmed the victim did not have climbing equipment.

Rescuers said it was apparent the victim had been climbing at a point just inside the mouth of the canyon where the North Fork of Fish Creek joins the main stem of Fish Creek. Estimates of how far the man fell varied from 30 to 40 feet. People on the scene said he appeared to have taken the brunt of the fall on his left leg and shoulder.

Sanford said the victim was drifting in and out of consciousness by the time emergency personnel arrived.

The Routt County Sheriff's Office closed access to the upper parking lot at Fish Creek Falls on Tuesday afternoon during the rescue and prevented the public from wandering into the area. Steamboat Fire and Ambulance paramedic Brian Shively supervised the emergency medical care of the victim on scene. Search and Rescue's Sanford and Pete Lewis supervised the rope system used to extricate him from the canyon.

A prominent sign on the footbridge warns the public that rock climbing is a dangerous sport that can result in significant injuries.

The rescue process was familiar to members of Search and Rescue, who held a multi-day rope rescue training session in May that culminated with fieldwork at Fish Creek Falls.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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