Ken-Caryl Teen Facing Long Recovery after Fall from Rocks in Open Space, Lucky to Be Alive
by Mary Jacoby Hastings
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon with the Open Space of Ken-Caryl Ranch beckoning the perfect hike. However, what started out as a carefree afternoon ended with the heroic acts of emergency crews and five friends when a sixth teen’s life was in jeopardy.
West Metro Fire Rescue and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call that came in at 4:22 p.m., Saturday, November 6, 2010, which resulted in a challenging wildland rescue effort for nearly 30 firefighter/paramedics to save the life of 18-year-old Chris Barton, son of Michael and Helen Barton of Manor Ridge.
Barton had lost his footing and fallen over two separate rocky cliff faces landing on the edge of a third drop-off north of Massey Draw Trail, just south of the Gothic Overlook in Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space. Rescuers climbed 360 vertical feet in very rough terrain with loose gravel and debris, including highly abrasive dense scrub oak, to reach Barton as daylight was fading. Following six harrowing hours, involving two different rope rescues in the dark with concerns about falling rocks, steep terrain, snakes and a mountain lion spotted in the area, rescuers were able to transfer Barton into a rescue helicopter for transport to the Swedish Medical Level 1 Trauma Center.
Incident commanders weighed their rescue options before proceeding. One option would have meant remaining at the location with Barton until operations could proceed under safer conditions the following morning. Those in command made the decision to continue the rescue in the dark by building a low angle descent system with all personnel tied into safety systems, which restricted their movement on a steep grade with loose gravel.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries during the event. Personnel were instructed to leave behind any gear that could not be carried on their backs to keep both hands free during the extrication. The following day Gary Norton with the Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space Ranger staff assisted West Metro in locating items left behind, some of it tangled in the brush during the rescue.
Three different landing points had been scouted out as safe enough for a landing. It was determined that Barton would have to be carried down the treacherous hillside and transferred to the chopper below because the chopper crew could not find an adequate place to land above the extrication site.
During the ordeal, rescuers had to rely on headlamps and flashlights. Medical personnel were grateful for the light provided by the waiting helicopter, which was forced to leave the scene for refueling and a crew change due to flight regulations given the length of time the rescue required. Nurses stayed behind with Barton.
Barton had been hiking and climbing in the Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space with five friends — Freddie Gaudet, son of Dave and Jenni Gaudet of the Village; Jake Keller; Michael Linneman, son of Eric and Carla Linneman of the Retreat; Jeremy McCombs; and Matt Vaninger — following a powder puff football game at Chatfield Senior High School where Barton had been cheerleading earlier in the day.
Barton’s father Mike says he is so grateful the two teens that remained with Barton, Linnenam and McCombs, were able to stabilize their friend and apply critical rudimentary first aid techniques, learned in training as Boy Scouts, until professional help arrived. The other three teens had left the scene to get help and lead rescuers to the site. Mike Barton says he would like to thank all five boys who helped Chris get down safely.
The elder Barton adds, “We can’t say thank you enough to West Metro Fire Rescue for all that they did,” and he goes on to praise the trauma team at Swedish for the job they performed to help his son.
While Barton’s condition warranted no visitors, his five friends were allowed to visit and hear their friend’s words of gratitude. Barton sustained numerous puncture wounds, deep gashes, cuts, bruises, broken bones and critical injuries, which required reconstructive surgeries to his face, pelvis and hand. Miraculously, he sustained no internal injuries.
Mike Barton says, “Everybody is optimistic about Chris’ recovery.” On November 15, 2010, Barton was moved from the multi-trauma floor to the acute rehab unit at Swedish Medical Center. The family hopes Barton will be well enough to return home by Christmas, but knows there are no guarantees.
Mike Barton humbly expressed, “The kindness and caring we’ve received, even from people we don’t know well, have been more than we could hope for.” He says he is proud of his son for maintaining his “nice, polite personality and continued optimism.” The nurses, he says, have found Chris to be a delight in their care.
Barton is a senior at Chatfield Senior High School and a member of the school’s cross country team. He is active with the Young Life organization and was selected as a counselor in the school district’s Outdoor Lab program for all sixth graders. Barton’s younger brother Steve is a freshman at Chatfield.