Early last month, two Jeeps fell down a 130 foot cliff and into the Crystal River near Aspen, Colorado, local news site Aspen Times reports. The Jeeps—now mangled wrecks—sat abandoned in the water for nearly a month, and are only now being extracted.
The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office told the news site it all began in early July when two brothers out of Denver, who were off-roading in the late afternoon, found their path blocked by a disabled vehicle. One of the Jeepers tried getting around the obstacle, but ended up in a precarious position after his Jeep’s left rear wheel slid off the path.
The drivers tried using a come-along tool to get that Jeep back on the road, but it didn’t help, as both its rear wheels were soon hanging off the ledge.
That’s when the two off-roaders decided to hook the Jeeps together to see if a tow-strap and a little bit of yanking could get the Jeep out of trouble.
Eventually, the Jeep with its rear axle hanging off the trail tumbled down the 130 foot slope, tugging the other Jeep down with it. There was nobody in the first Jeep, but police say the brother in the tow vehicle “took a ride” down the slope with his Jeep and sustained moderate knee and back injuries.
Police told Aspen Times that the two brothers weren’t sure whom to report the incident to, so they just didn’t. Only after about three days were the police notified that “two vehicles with ‘several’ young adults who had allegedly been drinking heavily were involved in the incident.”
That’s when the U.S. Forest Service—instead of wasting its funds on a tow effort–waited for the two owners to come back and get their dilapidated Jeeps out of their pristine river.
District Ranger Karen Schroyer told Aspen Times “We’re committed to holding the vehicle owners responsible for removing the vehicles.”
I called Schroyer to ask about the environmental effects of leaving the cars in the river, and she said she believes the majority of the damage was done in the first few hours, when the cars sat in the water leaching coolant, transmission fluid, oil and other pollutants.
But unfortunately, it became a struggle to get ahold of the two brothers. Schroyer told Aspen Times late last month “We’re having trouble reaching the individuals, so we need them to contact us.” After over three weeks, the Jeeps were still sitting in that same spot in the river.
The good news is that the brothers eventually did come back for their Jeeps. And they came with reinforcements. The Aspen Times says in a follow-up article that “Jeep owners and volunteers from a four-wheeling club [were] using winches on two vehicles and a pulley system to get the demolished vehicles hauled to the road.”
Jeep community for the win!
Schroyer told me that last Saturday, one of the Jeeps was towed to the top of the ravine, and on Tuesday, they were able to remove the vehicle from the forest entirely. That’s the vehicle above, a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ.
She told me the plan was to have the second one pulled out tomorrow, or perhaps Sunday. The 1999 Cherokee is still sitting at the bottom of the slope, though it has been pulled from the water.
A law enforcement officer with the Forest Service told the news site that the two Jeeps were stock and fitted with only street tires, making them a bit underdressed to tackle what he considers “rather advanced four-wheel-drive terrain.”
So the takeaways here are: make sure your rig is built for the trails you’re driving, don’t try to squeeze by someone on a narrow road on a cliff-side, and the Jeep community is one of the strongest in all of automobile-dom. They’ve got your back.