Jumping off cliffs | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Jumping off cliffs

Gregory Crofton

The thought develops, grips a mind and triggers a rush of adrenaline.

If one thinks about it too long, the jump never happens. With each passing minute the prospect of throwing your body 60 feet off a rock into cold water grows slimmer.

But you do it. Without thinking.

Out over the rock, it’s a surprise how high in the air you are. Then gravity works, pulling your body like you’re falling through an elevator shaft. That second in the air feels like a minute.


Did you pierce the water like a needle, ending up short of breath 20 feet underwater? Did you go flailing, arms and legs spread-eagled and slapped red by the water? Did you run off the edge and have whiplash thrash your back?

It is a dangerous sport. People have died doing it.

The danger depends on variables. Is the water level low? Is where you’re jumping deep enough and clear of rocks? How high up was the rock you jumped from? Did you land awkwardly?

Popular spots to cliff jump are rocks alongside Lake Tahoe near D.L. Bliss State Park and Upper Angora Lake, where there is 15-foot cliff and 60-foot cliff.

In July 1996, a 21-year-old man from Round Hill died after making a 50-foot jump at Angora. Zachariah Murphy and friends were jumping from 40 feet before they decided to go 10 feet higher. Murphy launched from a rock feet first but as he fell his body went forward and smashed into the water.

Murphy was motionless when he floated to the surface for a moment and then sank. He stayed under for five minutes until friends pulled him from about 20 feet of water.

An autopsy showed that Murphy died from drowning, indicating he was knocked unconscious when he hit the water.

The only other known death reported at Angora came in August 1993. A 26-year-old man from Truckee died when he attempted a flip from a cliff.

Jim Hildinger, who operates a resort and lemonade stand at Angora, is adamantly against cliff jumping at the upper lake. Despite his strong feelings, Hildinger is powerless to stop the jumping because the upper lake is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Don Lane, a recreation forester at the Forest Service for 31 years, said cliff jumping at the lake as well as other lakes is usually legal because it’s considered outdoor recreation.

Lane said the Forest Service tickets people for behavior that puts others at risk, such as speeding down a crowded trail on a mountain bike. If someone wants to launch off a rock at Angora, the Forest Service considers it outdoor recreation.

Lane said Hildinger anchored logs under the cliffs about 20 years ago to stop the jumping. The Forest Service removed the logs because they made a dangerous area even more dangerous.

“There was no guarantee that people would not jump off that cliff,” Lane said. “If we knew there were hidden or submerged logs and didn’t notify the public, that’s negligence. At some point common sense has to prevail. There is a certain amount of risk in outdoor recreation.”

The rocks near D.L. Bliss and Rubicon Point have also caused death. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Peshon recalled that a young man suffered massive injuries and died about nine years ago when he jumped from a cliff when the water level was down.

“There was a ledge of a rock sticking out and he couldn’t see that,” Peshon said. “I think he hit feet first.

“It’s very easy to get hurt doing this. A lot of these people don’t know what’s under the water. You also get the shock factor of hitting the water. If you hit wrong it’s like hitting concrete plus the cold (water) on top of that compounds the problem.”

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