Deaths are rare on Hanging Lake Trail |

Deaths are rare on Hanging Lake Trail

Ryan Summerlin
This plaque in Carbondale memorializes a youngster who died at Hanging Lake in 1990.
John Sroud / Post Independent |

Monday’s death of an 8-year-old boy on the popular Hanging Lake Trail marks the first such tragedy in more than a decade.

Called a little after 4 p.m., Garfield County Search and Rescue responded to the scene at Spouting Rock, which is at the top of the mile-long trail 9 miles east of Glenwood Springs. People at the scene tried CPR on the boy, and rescue crews took over the efforts when they arrived.

The mission lasted more than four hours.

The only information about the boy immediately available was that he was from the Front Range. He was hiking with his family at the time.

An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

Such incidents on Hanging Lake Trail are very rare, Tom Ice, Garfield Search and Rescue director, said Tuesday. The trail is steep and heavily traveled, typically forcing people to move slowly, and railings are in place in certain spots.

Ice recalled two deaths on Hanging Lake prior to Monday’s tragedy, but he estimated the last one was at least 14 to 15 years ago. One of these involved a heart attack and the other also resulted from a fall.

Though the trail may not be considered especially dangerous, freak accidents can be tragic for hikers. Last June, an emergency room physician known for backcountry skiing, kayaking extreme whitewater, mountain biking and ice climbing died after hitting his head after stumbling a little more than a mile into Grizzly Creek Trail.

Less serious injuries on the Hanging Lake Trail are not uncommon. Ice said GSAR is deployed from four to a dozen times per year to retrieve injured hikers at Hanging Lake.

Falls, twisted ankles, shortness of breath and altitude sickness are some of the situations to which rescuers respond.

“This is a pretty rigorous trail; it’s no walk in the park,” said Ice.

The answer for the conditions is basic preparedness. “Bring water. Know your limitations. Realize this is not a simple walk up a hill, but rather big steps up rocky, wet, steep terrain at high elevation.”

Footwear can make a big difference. Hikers should make sure to wear shoes with good tread and soles that will grip the trail.

“Any given day you’ll see people with flip flops and only a small bottles of water,” Ice said. “I think you need to be more prepared than that and realize what kind of trail it is.

Aaron Mayville, Eagle-Holy Cross district ranger, said, “Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the family. They are first and foremost in our minds right now.

“We’re constantly working with the county, the sheriff’s office, Colorado State Patrol and search and rescue to make this a safe place,” he said. Just last week, Hanging Lake Trail was closed for maintenance that included some trail widening to help facilitate search and rescue crews.

Like any other trail, Hanging Lake Trail sees injuries from “slips, trips and falls,” said Mayville.

What’s particularly difficult about this death is how simple the cause appeared to be. Ice said it was a simple case of a slipping and falling at Spouting Rock. Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire said the boy fell only from “head height.”

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen often,” said Mayville. “Our hats are off to the search and rescue crews and the county for a quick response.”

Forest Service staff has eyes on the trail, but it’s the search and rescue crews are the experts and do a good job responding to injuries, he said.

The takeaway, said Ice, is that the heavy foot traffic on trail polishes the rocks smooth and can make them very slippery, even when they’re dry. Add a little mist from the falls and those rocks can become slick as ice, he said.

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