Steamboat man injured while cliff jumping
July 2, 2012
Steamboat Springs — A 26-year-old Steamboat Springs man suffered a serious back injury Sunday after he jumped off a 60-foot cliff and had to be rescued by helicopter in extreme northern Routt County.
The man, identified by the Routt County Sheriff's Office as Zachary Cole, is hospitalized at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyo. He was flown there by helicopter Sunday night after an elaborate rope rescue. It took nearly 7 1/2 hours from the time Cole was injured simply to get him from the base of King Solomon Falls to an awaiting rescue helicopter, Routt County Search and Rescue Incident Commander Darrel Levingston said Monday.
Cole jumped off a cliff at the popular and remote King Solomon Falls at about 3:15 p.m. Sunday. He initially thought he was OK but realized the severity of his injuries when he tried to pull himself to shore, Levingston said.
"The water was deep enough, but he hit wrong," Levingston said. "He hit butt first. He was in a tremendous amount of pain."
Levingston couldn't elaborate on the nature of Cole's injuries, but he said rescuers initially feared they were life-threatening. A nurse at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center said Monday afternoon that Cole is on bed rest while doctors determine how best to treat his unspecified back injury.
Because of the remoteness of the King Solomon Falls area — it's north of Columbine, south of the Wyoming border and two miles from the nearest road — it is thought that someone else at the falls rushed to nearby 3 Forks Ranch to place a 911 call. The rescue operation included nine North Routt Fire Protection District firefighters, nine Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers, a Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue paramedic and a Carbon County, Wyo., sheriff's deputy who also is an EMT. Two Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies also responded.
"I've been doing this a long time and this was the toughest rescue I've ever been part of," Levingston said.
He said it took an 1,100-foot technical rope rescue to lift Cole from the base of the falls to an area above the canyon where the helicopter could safely land. That 1,100-foot rope system covered 700 vertical feet.
Despite its remote location, King Solomon Falls is a popular destination, particularly among Routt County residents. Levingston said rescuers passed at least 15 other people while trying to get to Cole on Sunday. It's on public land, Levingston said, but it's extremely difficult to access. Cliff jumping is the motivation for many of the people who venture there, and serious injuries have resulted.
"It's a fun place to go, but it's proven to be extremely dangerous," Levingston said. "If you do get hurt, whether the rescuers can get to you safely and in time is questionable.
"They just need to understand that if they get hurt, they're about as remote as you can get in Routt County. Help is going to take a long time to get there. There is no cell coverage."
In 2009, a rescue crew of 22 spent four hours rescuing a 25-year-old Steamboat woman who was injured after jumping off a 65-foot cliff at King Solomon Falls. At the time, it was the third hospitalization in five years from incidents at King Solomon Falls.