HINCKLEY TWP. â€” When hikers get stuck atop Whippâ€™s Ledges at the Cleveland Metroparks Hinckley Reservation, park rangers easily can surmise whatâ€™s happened.
â€œItâ€™s pretty much cut and dry, the same every time,â€ Sgt. Mark Hayner, a ranger for seven years, said. â€œThey climb up â€” and people think theyâ€™re experienced climbers â€” and they figure out they donâ€™t have a rope, which is pretty important for getting down.â€
Last Sunday night, two teenagers without climbing equipment were stranded on the ledges, and several agencies from around the county â€” including the sheriffâ€™s department, Metroparks rangers and the Medina County Technical Rescue Operation Team â€” worked to rescue them from a tall island of rock within the ledges.
â€œThis is where people get stuck,â€ Hayner said, gesturing toward the nearly 100-foot-high Whippâ€™s Ledges.
The rocky ledge juts from a steep hillside, and large, mossy rocks point the way to the top. A steep path lined with decaying leaves, tree roots and rocks leads to the ledges from a picnic area below.
Climbing the rocky ledges is allowed â€” itâ€™s one of the only areas suitable for climbing in the Metroparks.
Rocky outcroppings on the ledges make it inviting for climbers who have the right gear. Itâ€™s those who come unprepared who get into trouble, Hayner said.
â€œMost of the time, they donâ€™t come with the intention to climb,â€ Hayner said of those whoâ€™ve been stuck on the ledges. â€œItâ€™s the peer pressure thing â€” they come with a group of friends and want to have fun, and one dares the other, â€˜who wants to climb the rock?â€™ â€
When the dare turns into a dangerous situation, rescuers have their work cut out for them.
Hayner said rescuers must tote nearly 100 pounds of hiking gear up the steep, rocky path to the ledges, climb to the victim with equipment, then rappel to safety, carrying the victim.
â€œIt can take up to a couple of hours,â€ he said, adding crews also must drive to the Metroparks, which are isolated in the rural, eastern portion of Hinckley Township.
When an emergency happens, rangers request assistance from other local agencies because rangers arenâ€™t formally trained for climbing rescue, Hayner added.
The teens who were trapped last weekend were issued minor misdemeanor citations for climbing without permits. The maximum fine for violating the Metroparks ordinance is $100 plus court costs, Hayner said.
Metroparks spokeswoman Dianna Kall said climbers must obtain an individual permit, which lasts a year, or group permit, which is good for the day the group plans to climb.
Applicants also must have proof of personal or group liability insurance to qualify for a permit.
Permits can be obtained from the Cleveland Metroparks Visitor Services Division by calling 216-635-3200.
Aside from permits, Hayner and Kall said proper equipment and a little know-how can go a long way concerning climbing safety.
Hayner said ropes, helmets and footwear with good ankle support are musts for climbing.
People who get stranded more than once may be faced with more than fines from the Metroparks rangers, he added.
â€œIf it becomes a repeat circumstance, (fire departments and rescue groups) will bill you,â€ he said, adding the costs can reach $800 an hour.
Casual hikers also can run into trouble at the reservation if they come unprepared.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a lot of people just roll their ankles walking through here,â€ he said, stepping across a large, smooth stone embedded into the path leading to Whippâ€™s Ledges.
The sloping trail can be deceivingly slick, he said, which is another reason ankle-supporting footwear is important.
Kall said hikers easily can get disoriented exploring the parkâ€™s nearly 20 miles of walking trails, not to mention footpaths through the woods.
â€œWhen youâ€™re in nature, you can be walking 10 minutes â€” or you could be walking three hours and it feels like 10 minutes,â€ she said. â€œYou get out, you start walking and walking and following a trail, and next thing you know, trees are trees and leaves are leaves, and youâ€™re lost.â€
Kall and Hayner recommended picking up a free trail map at the ranger station off Bellus Road before embarking on a hike.
However, not everyone who visits the Hinckley Reservation comes unprepared.
â€œWe will get groups of people out here who do have permits and have the right equipment, like helmets, and theyâ€™re actually very responsible,â€ Hayner said.
Besides park rules, Hayner said every visitor should be aware of two things: â€œKnow where youâ€™re at, and know your limitations.â€
Climbing at Whippâ€™s Ledges:â€” Climbers must obtain a permit from the Cleveland Metroparks Visitor Services Division.
â€” Climbers must have proof of liability insurance, such as homeownerâ€™s or renterâ€™s insurance.
â€” Climbing groups must have proof of at least $100,000 bodily injury and $100,000 property damage liability insurance.
â€” Climbers must sign a waiver protecting the Metroparks from liability.
â€” Individual permits are good for one year and are free.
â€” Group permits are good for one day and are free.
â€” Call 216-635-3200 to obtain a permit.
â€” Visit www.clemetparks.com for information.