March 4, 2006
A 22-year-old man died while climbing illegally and without safety gear in a treacherous area of Garden of the Gods park Friday afternoon. Christian Fink, a Silver Cliff resident attending the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, died after he slipped off a rock formation and fell more than 100 feet down a wide crevasse, according to Colorado Springs Fire Department Lt. Jim Eddy. Fink didn’t have a permit to be climbing in the park, Eddy said. According to park interpreter Brook Cruz, Fink was climbing in the Sleeping Giant area near Keyhole Cave — an area marked with warning signs to climbers. “It’s very dangerous to get to,” Cruz said. “It’s like a vertical drop into this cave, and you have to be very careful trying to get over the top. Those rocks are very uneven and not the proper thing to be climbing around on.” Eddy said Fink was rock scrambling in the park with three friends, and the Fire Department received a call around 2:10 p.m. that someone had fallen. The department’s heavy rescue team was called out, but Fink was dead by the time it arrived, Eddy said. Anyone who wishes to climb higher than 10 feet in Garden of the Gods park is required to have a technical permit. Cruz said the form people must sign says they climb at their own risk, though there are specifically mapped climbing routes that a local group of climbers maintains. The fine for breaking the 10-foot rule is at least $500, and it can include rescue costs. Cruz said people who pass beyond the signs near Keyhole Cave can be fined an additional $500. Friday’s climbing death is the second of the week in Colorado Springs. Susan Beverly, 43, died Monday while hiking in the Red Rock Canyon Open Space, after she fell 150 feet. She was wearing a backpack but had no climbing gear, according to the Fire Department. The El Paso County Coroner’s Office ruled her death an accident. In previous accidents in Garden of the Gods, climbers have died either because they fell and weren’t wearing safety equipment or fell after their safety gear failed. In August 2004, 20-yearold Mark Peter Heinmets of Colorado Springs fell 30 feet to his death on the Three Graces rock formation after his climbing equipment came loose from the rocks. In June 1997, a 22-year-old Florida man working at the Renaissance Festival in Larkspur plunged 65 feet from Sleeping Indian Rock, dying instantly. He was climbing illegally and didn’t have the proper safety gear. Sleeping Indian Rock has claimed two other lives: - Lester Melton Jr., a 39-year-old Army reservist from Kansas who wasn’t wearing climbing gear, fell 75 to 100 feet from the formation in June 1993 while sightseeing with friends. - Lila Leslie Stoller-Reeds, a 36-year-old Colorado Springs woman who was bird-watching with her husband in August 1991, died after falling 75 to 100 feet from the same rock.