Woman missing after jumping into Roaring Fork River at Punchbowl; search to resume Thursday morning
A young woman who jumped into the Devil’s Punchbowl on Independence Pass east of Aspen and was swept downstream Wednesday afternoon remained missing after a search Wednesday evening, a law enforcement official said.
Officials called off search efforts about 7 p.m. after darkness made finding the woman too dangerous for search crews, said Jesse Steindler, patrol captain for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Search-and-rescue personnel planned to meet late Wednesday night in Aspen to regroup. They will go back out Thursday morning to continue efforts to find the woman, who was in her early 20s and visiting the Aspen area for the day with her family, he said.
“There’s still a lot of water coming down that river,” Steindler said Wednesday evening. “There are a lot of strainers (piles of logs and debris) in the river. At this time the Punchbowl is a dangerous place to be.”
Emergency dispatchers received a call about the incident at 4:34 p.m. from a man who drove down the pass to a call box at the winter closure gate to report it, Steindler said. He said the woman jumped into the popular swimming and hang out spot near the Grottos and was swept downstream, Steindler said.
Resources including a swift-water rescue team from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department were deployed along the banks of the Roaring Fork River, while a drone was used to scan the river in search of the woman, Steindler said. The drone crew stayed in the area until after 7:45 p.m. to continue to look from the air.
The Punchbowl, which is about 8 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 on the way up Independence Pass, is a natural swimming hole where there are spots to jump off cliffs. The command center was set up at the Weller Lake trailhead, which is just downstream from the Punchbowl.
Deputies were also trying to get in touch with officials from the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates Grizzly Reservoir on Independence Pass, to try to stem the river flow as soon as possible, he said. Runoff that in drier years might flow through diversion tunnels from Grizzly to the Front Range instead has been streaming down the Roaring Fork River for weeks, significantly increasing the amount of water in the river.
Steindler said Wednesday evening that deputies hadn’t had any luck getting in touch with Grizzly officials.
The flow at the gage down river about four miles near the Difficult Campground was about 215 cfs at 4:30 p.m, according to the USGS. That is above the 30-year average for this time of year.
This is a developing story that will be updated.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.