Rock fall injures climbers northeast of Durango

Saturday, April 7, 2018 9:17 PM

Rock fall injured two women Saturday afternoon at the climbing area north of Lemon Reservoir, about 20 miles northeast of Durango.

Tom Brueckner of La Plata County Search and Rescue said a rock three times the size of a microwave dislodged above the woman climbing.

“It hit both the climber and the belayer on the ground,” he said.

Brueckner said Search and Rescue and Pine River Fire Protection District responded shortly before 2 p.m. to the scene.

It took about two hours to rescue the climbers, during which crews had to cross the Florida River and perform a technical rope rescue.

“Patient contact was made on the south side of the river, but they had to be transported across the stream and then raised on the north side up a steep embankment,” he said.

The extent of the climbers’ injuries is unknown, as well as their identities, Brueckner said.

A Flight for Life helicopter landed on the scene, but the climbers were taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center by ambulance about 3:40 p.m.

Rock fall, although not uncommon, is not typically so severe, Brueckner said.

“What is common is smaller rocks the size of a fist falling,” he said. “What makes it dangerous is the increase in speed of the rock.”

He did not know if either woman was wearing a helmet.

Brueckner said the rescue was “relatively simple” because the river flow is low, and crews train in the area multiple times a year.

“It is a very popular climbing area in the spring and summer because it opens relatively early,” he said.

There has been an increase in climbing accidents over the last two years, Brueckner said.

A 40-year-old rock climber from Durango fell 100 feet from the “Holy Grail” route in September at Transfer Park near Lemon Reservoir.

Thad Ferrell suffered serious injuries Sept. 9, 2017, to his jaw, pelvis and right ankle in the accident.

Brueckner said there is likely a correlation between accidents and the number of climbers.

“Sports climbing in general has become more popular over the years,” he said.

He cautioned people enjoying the outdoors to always be prepared for the unexpected.

“You should always have a cellphone and a whistle,” he said. “You can blow a whistle all day long, and it carries much further than a voice does. Even though it’s warm during the day now, make sure to carry layers for an unexpected outing at night.”