Dog plucked from Lincoln Creek in daring rescue
An Aspen pooch lives to fetch another day, thanks to several locals who joined forces in a daring effort to rescue the dog from a treacherous chasm on Lincoln Creek Friday.
Cooper, a two-year old white Labrador, was trailing his master, Dirik Oudt, and friends as they mountain biked up Lincoln Creek Road Friday afternoon. The trouble began two to three miles up the dirt road, located off Highway 82 on Independence Pass.
“He was hot and he ran over to the water to get a drink,” Oudt said. “But the rocks were slick and he slipped off into the river. He got swept down a couple sets of pretty bad chutes and waterfalls – one of them was about 30 feet high – hitting rocks and logs all the way down. And at the pool beneath the big fall, the force of the water coming down on him kept him under water for about 30 seconds.
“At that point, well, I didn’t think he could hold his breath for that long,” Oudt continued. “He got swept away at the worst possible spot, and the water was raging.”
Cooper did surface, but in a pool of swift water surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs about 40 feet high.
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“He was paddling against the current in this pool, and he had to paddle as hard as he could to stay in the same spot,” Oudt said. Immediately downstream from the pool stretched another set of dangerous waterfalls, he added.
“There were probably ten or twelve people there watching him from above, but because of the sheer cliffs surrounding the pool, all we could do was stand there and watch him,” Oudt said. “We didn’t know what to do. There was no way for us to get down there.”
For some 20 minutes, Cooper continued to fight against the frigid current to remain in the pool, while the crowd looked on.
“It was very dramatic and scary – our granddaughters were crying hysterically because they didn’t think the dog could be saved,” said Marion Weiss, a witness whose family was picnicking in the area. “I thought he was going to get hypothermia and give up.”
“Luckily, these rock climbers were driving up Lincoln Creek Road and somebody stopped them and asked if they had any ropes and gear, and they did,” Oudt said.
Without hesitation, Snowmass Village resident and climber Dave Shinn initiated a rescue effort. He anchored a rope to a tree atop the cliffs overlooking the pool and rappelled down to Cooper.
“At first, he grabbed Cooper by the collar and he nearly lost him, because his head almost came out of the collar,” Oudt said. “But [Shinn] was real athletic and quick and he got another arm around him.”
Someone in the crowd then lowered Shinn a “stuff sack,” which he used to safely bundle Cooper up, so the dog could be hoisted to safety.
“Cooper had been fighting the current for a half-hour at that point, so he was pretty much frozen and exhausted, and he didn’t fight being put into the stuff sack,” Oudt said.
“It was a great relief for everybody – we were all sucked into the drama of it,” Weiss added. “Everybody was cheering from above, but I’m sure [Shinn] couldn’t hear it with the rushing water. Everybody was calling him a hero.”
“Shinn was crazy, but he was real good – he knew what he was doing,” Oudt said. “Before he got there, we didn’t know what to do.”
Oudt took Cooper to a veterinarian later in the afternoon to confirm that he was OK.
“There were no problems with him,” Oudt said. “As a matter of fact, right after we pulled him up the cliff, a little girl threw a stick into the woods and he went off and fetched it.”
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After 14 years, a lengthy lawsuit by area residents and nearly $4 million in construction costs, a half-mile trail to two school campuses in the Castle Creek Valley was finally completed this week.