Not many people would willingly launch themselves off a 40-foot cliff into thin air. But for some Fort Collins thrill seekers, cliff jumping offers an exciting but very dangerous extracurricular activity.
Unpredictable water levels and rocky shores are among some of the many hazards of this extreme sport.
Jason Manke, an instructor for the Outdoor Adventure Club, said he has seen an innumerable amount of injuries resulting from cliff jumping accidents.
“(Cliff diving) is more dangerous than anything else you’ll probably do,” Manke said. “The number of people I’ve heard of getting hurt cliff diving is phenomenal.”
He said the most common injuries are severe bruises, especially on the arms, from impacting the water at an odd angle. However, he has heard of people breaking their backs simply by hitting the water wrong.
Manke is no stranger to extreme sports. He teaches ice climbing and mountain climbs often, but said that he thinks cliff jumping is more dangerous than any of these activities.
In fact, about four years ago, Manke himself went cliff jumping at the Poudre Canyon, and he hasn’t returned since.
“It was pretty fun, but that was back in my ‘invincible’ days,” he said. “Now I realize how dangerous it is. I would rather ski dive than cliff dive.”
In addition to the Poudre Canyon, several locations in Fort Collins and other areas have been targeted as prime cliff jumping material. But officials at each site said cliff jumping is firmly prohibited.
For most people adventurous enough to consider the idea in the first place, this is not much of a deterrent and many continue to cliff dive at these locations.
Even the recent death of CSU sophomore Cody Simonian has not stopped students from cliff jumping.
On the evening of Sept. 5, Simonian sustained massive head injuries while cliff jumping with friends at a quarry near the Poudre Canyon, and died the next day at Poudre Valley Hospital.
John Springer, maintenance foreman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, the organization that owns the land where the quarry is located, said warning signs were posted within days of the accident, but were ineffective.
“When it happened, signs were up almost immediately, but two days later kids were back trying to cliff dive,” Springer said.
Many popular cliff jumping areas are located at Horsetooth Reservoir within Larimer County Parks and Open Lands.
Mark Kaughlan, North Parks Manager for the Larimer County Parks Department, said park staff is very diligent about monitoring these areas for cliff jumping activity because rocky shores and extreme fluctuations in water levels make it a dangerous area.
“The reason we focus our attention on cliff diving is because we realize that it is such a hazard,” Kaughlan said.
He said it is difficult for anyone to accurately gauge the water depth, making it very easy to hit the bottom.
Anyone caught cliff jumping in these areas will receive a $50 fine.
For some people, however, the rewards of cliff diving outweigh the risks.
“It was a rush,” said Suzanne Cummings, a freshman open option major, who has gone cliff jumping more than ten times across the United States. “If you have your head on straight then I think it’s OK. When I went, I always knew the place and water levels so I felt comfortable.”
Checking the water to ensure that it is at a safe level is one of the most important things to do before cliff jumping, according to the Nae Limits website, an extreme sports provider located in Scotland. Nae Limits also suggests wearing a wetsuit and helmet, and using the proper jumping technique, which is feet together with arms crossed in front or pressed firmly to the side.
“I think it would be a shame to not allow people to do it at all in some places as long as they are being safe,” Cummings said.
-Edited by Vince Blaser and Becky Waddingham