Stranded elk rescued after dropping 30-feet into old mine shaft

Two hikers in Mineral County discovered an elk stranded at the bottom of a 30-foot mine-shaft, and state wildlife staff and sheriff’s deputies rescued the fallen beast.

The odd discovery and rescue, in the upper Grande Valley near Creede, happened on Saturday and rescuers used a nearby four-wheel driver trail, and a vehicle with a wench, to hoist the 250-pound cow elk out of the partially collapsed, abandoned mine shaft, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.

Chere Waters, of Creede, and a hiking companion were on a trail off the Bachelor Loop Road when they decided to check out a mine shaft opening Waters had seen years ago.

“I don’t know what it was, but something was drawing me to go up there,” Waters said in the release. The pair walked about a mile from their parked vehicle to the hole, and Waters tossed a rock down the opening from a safe distance.

Still curious about the hole and its depth, Waters “belly crawled” along the ground and her friend, slightly behind, held onto her ankles so she could peer over the edge.

“So I looked in and see this animal in there,” Waters said. “I was so surprised, I couldn’t believe it.”

They called the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office  and Wildlife Officers Brent Woodward and Jeremy Gallegos arrived along with Mineral County deputies.

“When I got the call I was told that a deer was stuck in a hole,” Woodward said. “But they thought the shaft was only about 10-feet deep. When I got there I could see it was an elk and it was probably 30-feet down.”

Woodward tranquilized the elk from above, and Terry Wetherill, Mineral County emergency and search rescue manager, was lowered into the hole using a truck winch. Straps were attached to the elk and it was hoisted out.

Over the years, Wetherill has pulled deer and elk out of fencing, he said, “but I’ve never had to pull one out of a hole.”

Creede and the surrounding area boomed in the late 1800s with silver mines. Most old mine shafts have collapsed and filled in over the years. The hole the elk fell into likely has been there for more than 100 years.

“It’s dangerous, it’s in the shadows and until you’re 20-feet away you don’t see it,” Wetherill said in the release.

Mineral County and Rio Grande National Forest officials have been asked to determine ownership so the shaft can be filled or covered as a safety measure.

The elk was rescued it was “pretty beat up”  by the fall, Woodward said. It may have been stranded for two or three days.

The elk was examined on scene and Gallegos then administered a drug to counteract the tranquilizer. In a few minutes the elk stood on shaky legs and took off.

“When she stood up, she moved a few yards, turned and looked at us for a few seconds and then turned and trotted away. It was great that we could get her out alive,” Woodward said.

Waters and her friend stayed for the rescue and took photos. For her part, Waters felt as if she’d been guided to the shaft by an unseen power. “I was just so called to go to that place.”


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