A wild apricot tree in bloom--now that doesn't happen often. Sandwiched between Signature and North Gateway Rocks, blossoms greeted my husband Harry and me as we walked across the central Garden area. The late morning sun illuminated Kissing Camels and chattering spring break visitors pushed strollers, herded offspring and reined in dogs, mesmerized by red monoliths and the Colorado sky.
Heading back to the entrance road, we heard sirens and watched a Colorado Springs Fire Department truck driving toward Gateway Rocks. Seconds later, more sirens and flashing lights approached in paramedic services vans.
We wheeled around to check things out, and more vehicles appeared, police cars and a van labeled "Fire Chief." Around the corner from the Perkins family plaque, we spotted scattered hikers trapped high above on the sheer rock face, an area locals call Tourist Gully.
We saw they lacked technical equiipment, a requirement for rock-climbing in Garden of the Gods. I shuddered thinking they had no footholds and the extreme drought upped the danger of loose rocks. One false move and they'd tumble to their deaths. We tried counting them--near the top we couldn't see well--but we figured nine or ten.
The firemen hopped out with proper climbing shoes, ropes and backpacks bulging with gear; resolute in their commitment to the mission ahead. Now their lives would be endangered as well.
We're going to get them one-on-one. This going to take a long time." One man shouted across the vans. I watched an agile woman with cropppd hair among the first rescuers to begin climbing the rock.
The lowest of the hikers, a blue-shirted man plastered against a vertical wall, suddenly inched to his right.
"Don;t move! Stay put," a fireman barked.
"I'm just finding another place where I can sit. I'm sore," the man yelled.
"Please stand back behind the trees." Onlookers crowded beyond the ponderosas and now the area was cordoned off with yellow tape. The rescue team members pulled themselves upward--slowly, so very slowly--ropes attached, feet gripping rock, hands searching for holds, moving toward the stranded figures.
"They'll have to pay $500 for this," people murmured, shaking their heads, necks stretching to catch the action. A nearby sign announced climbing was prohibited, limited to those with technical equipment and permits. Some said they'd seen this group earlier, on the other side above the main parking lot, waving from atop the ridge. They'd climbed from there and then realized in horror they couldn't get down.
Hikers behind me laughed that they qualified for this year's "Darwin Award," a tongue-in-cheek honor given to those who protect the gene pool by eliminating themselves in an idiotic manner. "It's about astoundingly stupid judgment."
After a half hour, blue shirt was secured, parked on a ledge as more of the group gradually fell into safe hands. Harry and I didn't stay longer, but we heard on the news that the rescue took four and half hours and that no one was seriously injured. We wondered about the pricey fines. It's not unusual for the young to think they are invincible. Maybe there were out-of-towners and hadn't read the signs.
I gained new respect for the competent, responsible rescuers serving the Colorado Springs Fire Department. This was probably one of many calls during warm spring days.