Barbara Lawlor, Boulder County. It was supposed to be a peaceful day at the Hessie waterfalls. The two women were looking for mushrooms last Wednesday, July 15, which have popped up everywhere in the saturated soil along Jasper Creek.
Vicky and Jessica, both former Nederland residents, and their dogs and another friend’s dog picked a perfect day for their hike and all was well until they reached a point above most of the falls where they stopped to let their friend’s dog have a drink.
He was off leash and their dogs were on leash.
Bjorne stepped into the calmer water near the shore, but slipped on a wet rock and slid into the creek, where the rushing current swept him up and then rolled over him as he crashed downstream.
Vicky and Jessica began charging down the hill along the creek, not an easy thing to do with all the overgrown foliage and roots and slick rocks. But they are both in good shape. They had seen Bjorne go under the whitewater, struggling to swim and then hadn’t seen him again.
“But then we saw his poor little head fighting for air as he tumbled over many drops and waterfalls in the creek. I kept running down the creek but lost sight of him. When I couldn’t see him I thought he was gone,” said Jessica.
She was out front trying to stay ahead of the dog, when she heard Vicky shouting for her. Bjorne had been stopped by a log across the creek and was trapped against a large boulder, still trying to get out but losing strength. Jessica says he was scared and shivering and looked as if he were going to try and swim to them, which at this point would have been fatal. The cold crashing water was pummeling him as they watched.
It didn’t take more than a few seconds to make the decision to go to him. The tree looked safe and had many hand-hold branches sticking up from it. Jessica crawled over it to get Bjorne and managed to pull him out of the water and onto her lap after she secured a position on the log.
Both women realized the predicament she and the dog were in. She could make it back across the creek but not with the dog. If at any moment the dog were to panic, he could pull both of them into the raging rapids.
She decided to stay put, and Vicky, realizing she did not have cell phone service where they were, ran down to the trailhead to call for help.
“I waited for them to arrive and get the dog out. I honestly thought Vicky would come back and say search and rescue wouldn’t come for the dog, but the fact that I was out there with the dog might have been why they came. If we had stood and watched Bjorne and one of went to call I don’t think he would have stayed where he was, or he would have become hypothermic as he was shaking and didn’t have the energy to get up on the rock. I think it was watching this dog fight so hard and thinking that if that were my dog I would do whatever I could to safely get them out.”
When Boulder County dispatch received Vicky’s call for help around 12:45, a convoy of rescue crews, firefighters, and dive teams headed to the Hessie area. Nederland Fire Protection District, Nederland Police Department, Boulder Emergency Squad, Longmont Emergency Unit, and American Medical Response Ambulance responded to the scene. They arrived around 1:30 and set up a technical rope evacuation from shore to shore.
As Vicky and her dog Moose and Jessica’s dog Enro watched from shore, the rescue team came from the other side of the creek, bringing a helmet and life vest to Jessica while helping to secure the dog. A BES volunteer assisted her off the log and onto land, while another volunteer hooked Bjorne and himself up to safety lines. Carrying the dog in his arms, the volunteer also made it to the shore and both Jessica and Bjorne were fine.
They walked out on their own power. Before they arrived at the trailhead where the emergency crews waited, Jessica found one of the mushrooms she had been searching for.
It was a happy ending for everyone and a good reminder that the creeks are still running hard and fast and everyone—people, dogs, and cats—should stay away from the dangerous currents.
(Names of the parties withheld at their request.)