Danger still ignored at falls
Emergency crews summoned once again as visitors pay little heed to new signage, fencing
Given the pins in the map marking our escarpment accidents so far this year, we could call ourselves “The City of Waterfalls Falls” without being redundant.
But this weekend, even with heightened safety concerns rising to top of mind, visitors were lowering themselves to the bottom of the waterfalls, by the throng-ful. Despite technically not being allowed. New barriers, erected last week, seemed to have little effect.
And, sure enough, on Sunday it happened again. Emergency crews responded after one person was injured at Albion Falls.
Firefighters say they brought out one person from the Falls, but couldn’t give details about how the person was injured or the extent of the injuries.
Photos from the scene show emergency workers carrying a patient through a cut-out portion of the newly erected fence at the stairs down to the ravine.
It was called in as another rope rescue, says Hamilton Fire Department fire safety officer Steve McArthur. So seven units responded but they were able to access the situation by the stairs and so released five units.
Albion Falls, the ground zero (so to speak) of the issue, teemed with admirers this weekend, not so much at the lookout promontories where they should’ve been but out on the majestic outcroppings at the base of the cascade.
They waded in the shallows, basked on the rocks and some of the bolder ones climbed up
from the basin to the potentially treacherous stages along the terraced curtain of tumbling water.
When I visited on Saturday, the bright sun put a glorious varnish on the flow and the craggy cliffs opaquely visible, as though through cobwebs, underneath it.
The whole magnificent scene is templelike. And it is this very splendour, I suppose, that magnetizes people to find their way down around fences and barriers, ignoring Keep Out signs.
“Do you know how we get down there?” Mario Pilon from Mississauga asked me at the elevated lookout at Upper King’s Forest Park, where visitors are supposed to go to take in Albion Falls.
With the help of some other visitors to the lookout, I speculated how the dozens of people “down there” got there, but cautioned that they weren’t really supposed to be there.
“I think I’ll try,” he decided. And off he went.
Maria Z (she didn’t want her last name used) was there with her family. The Toronto woman has been visiting Hamilton waterfalls for 20 years, maybe more, so taken is she with them.
She has taken thousands of photographs of them. She obeys the rules but understands why some break them.
“Look. It’s so beautiful,” she told me. I agreed.
“But it’s sad. Every second week I would go to Sherman Falls. Then I got a parking ticket. I looked for the sign, it was very hidden.” It becomes harder and harder to access some of the Falls, and trickier to figure out where one is allowed to park.
She mentioned Webster’s Falls, how visiting is discouraged by higher fees and more complicated access. She doesn’t go to Sherman Falls anymore.
“It’s a big disappointment,” not going, she said. “There must be another way to give people access and to park, maybe a charge to tourists so they can make money from it.” It is a vexing riddle for this city: How to promote our ample natural glories without pricing them out of reach and compromising visitor safety?
I know someone who lives near Webster’s Falls, and she had to tell a family of tourists that they were picnicking ... in her backyard.
Cole and Elizabeth Thorsen are avid hikers and believe a big part of the solution is proper “infrastructure.”
This city simply doesn’t have it, they said. If the city is drawing people to such natural wonders — as it should — and knows people are going to climb down to the basins of waterfalls, it should put in safe ways to get there, and perhaps charge for access.
“Hamilton is a hidden gem,” when it comes to the Falls and the trails. “You can hike for hours and not see another person,” Cole told me at the lookout.
“We’ve hiked the Rockies and it was easier to access the great views than it is here,” added Elizabeth.
“We were at Buttermilk Falls,” said Cole, “and to get the best view these German tourists had to grab onto a tree branch to get a better angle. Even this (the Albion Falls prospect) should be built close to the falls.” If the lookouts were positioned with optimal sight lines, and if falls were easier to see from the trails, people wouldn’t be so eager to jump fences.
“Those guys,” he said, pointing to some slippery looking steppingstone-like rocks a little up the terrace, “I wouldn’t do that without a harness. But I’ve seen people halfway up the falls.”
Later, I ran into Mario coming up from a trodden pathway leading to steps that have been blocked off with a big Keep Out sign.
He was smiling. He straddled the rail of the steps. “This,” he said of the straddle, laughing, “was the most dangerous part. I took some shots (he shows me his cellphone). It was worth it.”
Mario was one of many people getting down to the bottom of the falls that way. “It’s a little slippery but not too bad,” said middle-aged Frank from London, Ont., who didn’t want his last name mentioned.
“I didn’t know we weren’t allowed,” said Aidan Scott, 20, who also happened to be from London.
“There was not a direct trail down to it but some trodden path and stepping over things a bit. Some people were going up to the first level of the falls. It looked fine, like they knew their limits. But I could see it might be dangerous.”
“It’s very pretty, very cool, lots of great stuff to see down there,” said Alison Woo, 19, Aidan’s friend.
Sarah, Justine, Sam and a few friends from McMaster University — they live here but are all originally from out of town — also were making the forbidden journey down.
“We feel safe,” said Sarah. “We’re not stupid. We’re not going to do something crazy.”
Hamilton is a hidden gem. You can hike for hours and not see another person.
HIKER COLE THORSEN
We feel safe. We’re not stupid. We’re not going to do something crazy.
SARAH FROM MCMASTER
Emergency crews assist an injured person at Albion Falls Sunday.
A man stands at the precipice of Albion Falls Sunday afternoon.
A woman hops over the railing to access the stairs at Albion Falls Sunday.
A man stands at the edge of Albion Falls Sunday. Recent signage and fencing by the city did little to deter people from accessing the popular, yet dangerous, spot.