I was supposed to meet Bryon tonight down in Boulder for dinner after work. The first sign something was wrong was a fire truck rushing down Ninth street towards Canyon Boulevard. Then more fire trucks, EMS vehicles coming from all directions, rushed towards Boulder Canyon. I knew something disastrous must have happened. In the five years we’ve lived in Nederland, I’ve seen this scene before. Shortly thereafter, law enforcement closed down the canyon to vehicle traffic. And I knew, some sort of accident had happened in Boulder Canyon.
Boulder Canyon connects the mountain town of Nederland with Boulder via a 17-mile windy, curvy steep road. But that road also provides access to some amazing recreation along Boulder Creek, whether it be rock climbing, bicycling, hiking, running, and fishing. So it attracts hundreds of people during a nice summer weekend. When I drive home on Saturday afternoons, there are literally well over a hundred cars parked all along the sides of the road. Because of the amount of people, and the sports they engage in, it’s no longer a surprise to see emergency vehicles converging on Boulder Canyon.
This time, the search was on for a fisherman who apparently had fallen into Boulder Creek and gotten swept away. Someone had seen him swept under the bridge in the late afternoon and called 911. It’s somewhat ironic as I was just commenting to Bryon earlier this week, that as high as the water is right now, no one could survive if they ended up in the creek. Snow melt is at its peak from the Indian Peak mountains above Nederland, and on top of that, we’ve had quite a bit of rain in the last couple of weeks, so the soil is saturated and can’t absorb the water.
Just last year, a young 12-year old girl drowned in Boulder Creek during the spring runoff season, when the pick up truck her father was driving swerved off the road into the creek. “Creek” is a bit of a misnomer during this time of year, as the water is roaring through the canyon, white water crashing up against the rocks as it makes it way to Boulder. Because of the danger of the high water, rescuers can do little when someone gets swept away. There’s a rule in Search and Rescue that you must make sure the scene is safe, and a rescuer should not put his or her own life at risk to try and save a victim who may or may not be alive. In the case of this young girl, they could not safely pull her body from the creek until it got all the way down to Boulder, and by that time it was too late.
After spending almost three hours searching for the fisherman tonight and finding nothing, they called off the search when it got dark. They will resume in the morning, with the intent to “recover”, instead of rescue, knowing at this time, it is unlikely he will have survived.
Watching all this unfold this evening reminds me of the dangers of mountain living. The canyon is an amazing place, full of incredible beauty and recreation. But after five years of living here, I’ve realized to respect the danger of those granite walls, the roaring creek, and its winding roadway. No matter the time of year or the season, Boulder Canyon is rife with the potential for tragedy.