Yesterday was an interesting day, but not necessarily in a good way.
While here in Glenwood Springs, I go out on the back deck in the mornings and drink coffee and watch the paragliders sail off Red Mountain, which is just above the house. When I broke my back last spring and was recovering here, it was a painful thing to watch, as I was in a lot of pain and very aware of what could happen to those carefree spirits riding the air currents. Nothing like pain to bring one out of denial. I cringed each time someone took off, hoping they'd have a safe flight.
Yesterday, my fears came true as a paraglider's sail folded and he bit the dust. Fortunately, he wasn't critically injured. I spent two hours watching a very dramatic rescue about 2,000 feet above me on the steep cliffs with my high-powered binoculars.
I was on Search and Rescue (SAR) for a time, so I'm aware of what goes into a high-angle rescue (think "ropes"), but actually watching one was quite an experience. First, a SAR guy rappelled down the sheer cliffs with a stretcher, reaching the downed pilot, who was in a very steep place not far from his sail. It looked like both guys would tumble on down the cliffs, and every once in awhile, I'd see rocks come scattering down.
The SAR guy was in a tough place, trying to get the pilot into the stretcher all alone on such a steep slope. All that was holding the pilot up was a big bush. It took the rescuer over two hours to "package" the victim. I could see the pilot moving his arms and head, and the paper later said he was in cell phone contact with the SAR group, so he wasn't critically injured. Knowing this made watching it all a bit easier (I had seen a news article on it when I took a break to make a cup of coffee—nothing like watching news as it's being made).
Imagine seeing all this from your back deck while drinking coffee—not your everyday occurrance. The rescuer slipped several times and if he hadn't been roped in, he would've fallen on down the cliffs. He even went and got the guy's parasail and at the end, rappelled on down the cliffs with it. These guys are true heroes, and I won't opine on whether or not they should be risking their lives for adreneline junkies.
After a long time and many difficult and slow movements, I watched as he threw a rope to a guy coming in from the side, then helped pull him over a small ridge. When the second rescuer got on the ridge, he slid down into the first rescuer, and they both nearly came on down. The first rescuer quickly clipped the second guy into a rope. That was pretty scary.
Finally, a big Army chopper came in for the rescue, sending down a cable. The helicopter pilot kept that machine perfectly still as they raised the pilot into the chopper, but the poor guy spun round and round like he was on a carnival ride. That's one flight I bet he never forgets. The chopper kicked up so much dust it looked like the mountainside was coming down. (The photo to the left is from the Glenwood Post.)
I used to climb mountains, but I was never one for throwing caution to the wind, though I have had a few very close lightning strikes. I also used to enjoy watching things like aerial acrobatic skiing and such, but now, realizing how fragile we poor humans really are, I find adreneline sports difficult to watch.
I guess it's just part of getting older, but maybe it's also what allows some of us to survive. I think some people really push the envelope and maybe thereby also push human achievement, but I guess I'd rather let someone else have that glory.