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Deaths, Injuries on Rise at Griffith Park Quarry : Cliff Lures Teens to Dangerous Game

March 17, 1985|LENORE LOOK | Times Staff Writer

Movie heroes have scaled it, dodging arrows and gunshots. Batman and Robin have roared through its caves in their Batmobile.

But today's cliffhangers at the Bronson rock quarry in Griffith Park are daredevil teen-agers whose exploits often end in tragedy.

One young rock climber was killed when he tumbled 250 feet down the quarry's rocky hillside last May. Eight others have been plucked by firefighters from ledges along the vertical rock face of the 300-foot cliff in the last year, said Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Richard Baker.

The quarry has become a popular gathering place for teen-agers, who take on the cliffs to show off to their friends and then find themselves stuck--afraid or unable to move--midway up the rock face, Baker said.

Precarious Footing

Some climbers don't make it that far up, but suffer serious injury when they lose their footing as the soft shale that lines the hillside gives way. Many leave trails of blood along the hillside as they slide down, bumping against sharp rocks and breaking arms and legs on the way.

The growing popularity of the rock quarry "is a serious problem," Baker said. "On warm weekends, there are a lot of teen-agers who come not only to hike but to party." Their derring-do is often bolstered by beer, he said; firefighters called out on rescues often find empty beer bottles littering the bottom of the rock quarry.

A mining site in the 1930s and the setting for many Hollywood Westerns, Bronson rock quarry is not the most precipitous incline in Griffith Park. But teen-agers are attracted to it because of its use by movie makers and its deceptively gradual ascent, park rangers say.

"It looks easier to climb than it is," said Fire Capt. Keith Miller. The increase in rescues--in the last month alone, firefighters have been called on twice to save frightened teen-agers stuck along the rock face--has prompted firefighters from nearby stations to train themselves in mountain rescues. The rescues can be extremely dangerous for firefighters, who must scale the granite bluff or be lowered from a helicopter to reach the victim.

Dangling From Copter

Half the rescues have involved lowering a firefighter in a harness from a helicopter--a risky method that can endanger both the victim and the firefighter when wind currents created by the low-flying helicopter cause rocks beneath the victim to break away and hurl the debris into the air.

Safer rescue tactics are now being practiced, Miller said. During a recent one-day training session, firefighters were taught to climb freehand, carrying medical equipment in a lightweight backpack, and to lower themselves from ropes tied around trees.

But the task remains dangerous and is disliked by the rescuers.

"It's like trying to go up a greased pole," said paramedic Michael McNeil. "I would go up two feet and slide down three. By the time I got to the victim, I would be all tuckered out."

Park rangers said they have posted "No Climbing" signs to deter the climbers, but some of the young thrill-seekers have stolen the signs.

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