Boulders exceeding 100 tons crashed into a viewing area a half-mile up a popular day hike area, Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said. The slide left a football-field-sized gash below Mount Princeton, a 14,197-foot peak. A female hiker who heard the slide ran down the trail and called for help, Spezze said.
Rescuers found five dead bodies and a 13-year-old girl with a broken leg and other injuries. The girl was flown to a Denver hospital.
There was no immediate identification of the victims or whether they were a single group.
Chaffee County authorities dismissed an earlier report that there was a seventh hiker unaccounted for.
The slide wasn’t preceded by smaller ones, Spezze said.
“It was totally unexpected. It caught everybody by surprise,” he said.
Sheriff’s department spokeswoman Monica Broaddus said rescuers left the mountain before dark Monday. She said the recovery effort would wait until likely Tuesday afternoon, after an engineer could survey the slide area to make sure it’s safe to remove the bodies.
The slide occurred at about 11 a.m. on the trail to Agnes Vaille (VAYL) falls in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest, an easy day hike about a 2 1/2 hour drive southwest of Denver.
The trail is one of the first hikes recommended to people new to the area and is also popular with tourists, said Margaret Dean, a regular hiker who has hiked the trail with her 7-year-old grandson.
Dean, a copy assistant at The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida, said the trail is easily accessible and provides a view of the falls and the Chalk Creek Valley in the Collegiate Peaks, which contains many mountains over 14,000-feet tall.
Agnes Vaille, the waterfall’s namesake, was a Denver mountaineer who died in 1925 while attempting a difficult winter climb of Longs Peak, elevation 14,259 feet.
Berkeleyside reported that parents of the Berkeley High School water polo team sent a letter to the principal expressing concern over their children’s alleged symptoms.
One parent told Berkeleyside that her son had lost all of the hair on his arms and legs and that the his eyes were continuously watering and stinging due to irritation from the pool.
During a voluntary water test, the City of Berkeley reportedly found the levels of chlorine and chloramine were ten times the recommended level, and the pH reading was above the accepted level.
The imbalance was reportedly caused by a faulty CO2 tank.
In a phone call with The Huffington Post, Berkeley Unified School District Public Information Officer Mark Coplan confirmed the report, but downplayed the situation.
“It’s a routine chemical imbalance,” he told HuffPost. “When you use ‘loss of body hair’ and ‘but we don’t want the kids taken out of the pool’ in the same sentence, that says to me that someone might just be looking at the pharmacy bottle and listing the possible side-effects.”
Coplan said the pool’s closure was only an extra precaution until the chemical balance was restored.
“We received a report from a parent and voluntarily called the city out to test the water,” he said. “It’s something that if you or I went swimming once a week we’d never notice, but when someone is spending two to three hours a day in the pool, it might have an effect.”
The closure due to the chemical imbalance is the second at the pool in the past nine years. Coplan noted that, “ironically,” both complaints came from the same parent.
“I stuck my hand in there,” he told HuffPost, “and when I pulled it out, all five fingers were still attached.”
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