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Firefighters, rescued hiker urge safety around Grandad Bluff

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Aug 29 2013 07:04:50 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 29 2013 11:09:35 PM CDT

WKBT, News8000.com

LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Grandad Bluff is one of the more popular places in La Crosse for hikers to enjoy nature, but its beauty can also be deceiving.

On Wednesday, emergency crews performed their second rescue of the year after a woman fell more than 40 feet and then rolled another 40 to 50.

The La Crosse Fire Department said it performs at least two or three rescues on the bluff a year.

Every time, rescuers are risking their own lives to save these people, and one person who knows from experience hopes others can learn from her mistake.

“I was pretty scared,” said Jessica Hale, a Western Technical College student.

Hale and Coey Oliver decided to hike down one of the trails near the top of the bluff last June.

Both say they didn't see any signs telling them it was a restricted area.

“I couldn't climb up any further, and I was too far up to go back down,” said Hale.
Oliver then called for help.

“I don't want her to fall and get hurt, so it was like, get somebody to help, get some rescue,” said Oliver.

Rescuing someone from Grandad Bluff isn't exactly a walk in the park.

“We try not to just dump people into the woods right away until we get a good idea of where we're going because everything that we carry is so heavy, and it’s such tough terrain,” said Frank Devine, captain of the La Crosse Fire Department.

Devine said it takes about 15 people and a lot of heavy equipment, including medical supplies, hundreds of feet of rope and maybe a transport sled, to perform a rescue.

The trail is filled with steep hills and loose gravel. Bits of glass are also scattered along the way.

Crews faced all of this and high temperatures for Wednesday’s rescue. The woman was hiking alone in a restricted area.

“Usually when people fall off the face here, you end up about 15 to 20 feet out, and then they hit the ground and they bounce and roll another 20 to 30 feet (or) 40 feet maybe,” said Devine.

Devine said this was his toughest rescue yet.

“There was a lot of issues with safety and getting that patient down,” said Devine. “Number one, she was banged up pretty good.”

As for Hale, crews used a harness to get her to safety.

Now looking back, she hopes others can learn from her mistake.

“I would just make sure you know where you are,” said Hale. “Even if it seems like an area where you can be, that it's probably not.”

The fire departments urges anyone wanting to hike on the bluff to pay attention to the signs for restricted areas, hike with a partner if possible and always carry a cellphone in case of an emergency.

Devine said upwards of 20 people have died from falls off the bluff in the last 25 years.

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