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Rescue personnel (second from left and second from right) work to secure ropes and harnesses to two climbers who became stranded on a ledge above the St. Louis River downstream from the Minnesota Highway 210 bridge in Thomson on Saturday night. (Andrew Krueger / Forum News Service)

Rope rescue team lifts two people to safety from ledge above NE Minn. river

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THOMSON, Minn. — Thanks to sharp-eyed passers-by and the efforts of a technical rescue team, two people were lifted to safety late Saturday night after spending several hours trapped on a rocky ledge high above the St. Louis River in Carlton County.

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The rescue team comprised of personnel from the Carlton Fire Department and Cloquet Area Fire District used ropes to bring the 17-year-old boy and 25-year-old man out of the gorge downstream from the Minnesota Highway 210 bridge. The pair, who had been on a small ledge about 50 feet above the rushing river and about 50 feet from the top, were “very tired, very cold,” Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Kevin Schroeder said, but they were able to walk back out to the highway with emergency personnel after the ordeal.

“They had been walking along the bank of the river and tried to find a way to get back up to the top, made it (part) of the way and got stuck on a ledge,” Schroeder said.

They had been there perhaps an hour with daylight fading, they told rescuers, when passersby spotted them at about 8:45 p.m.

Jerry Decker was among those who saw the pair stuck on the ledge. Decker, who lives in the Twin Cities, said he had been back in the area for his mother’s funeral this weekend, and on Saturday evening decided to bring his two nieces to see the river — which has been running high in recent weeks and continues to rage below Thomson Dam. From the Highway 210 bridge, Decker and his nieces caught a glimpse of two people who appeared to be climbing the cliffs downstream, but didn’t appear to be making any progress up or down.

“We walked around on the trails (atop the cliffs); I tried yelling to them and couldn’t get anything out of them, so we thought it was best to call 911,” Decker said. That call came at about 9 p.m.

A Carlton County sheriff’s deputy was on the scene within 10 minutes, Decker said, and the deputy then called for a rope rescue team. Decker and his nieces stayed to watch the rescue, along with other passersby. Cloquet Area Fire District trucks parked on the bridge with floodlights ablaze, illuminating the ledge downstream, as the technical rescue team assembled to start rigging ropes above the two stranded climbers. Officials yelled to the pair to stay where they were.

Eventually rescue technicians Justin Jahr from Cloquet and Sam Cooley from Carlton descended to the ledge just after 10 p.m.

“We could not see the people from where we went over the edge,” Schroeder said. “We had people on the bridge (spotting) and relaying information to us.”

It was delicate, time-consuming work to get the two climbers into harnesses and secured to the two rescuers, Schroeder said. “We didn’t have a lot of room to work and they couldn’t let go to help us,” he said, but there were no equipment failures and no one was injured. Once the two were secured — each tied to a rescuer — they were lifted to the top of the cliff in short order just after 11 p.m.

Carlton Ambulance and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were among other agencies at the scene.

Carlton County sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Petite said the two people rescued were ages 17 and 25, but he didn’t have hometowns for either one. He said they were not facing citations for climbing in the gorge.

While it may not have been illegal to be in the gorge, Schroeder said “stay out — use common sense. This is not an area that’s forgiving to people who make mistakes.”

Schroeder could not recall any past rescues from that particular section of cliff, but said local emergency crews have rescued many other people from along that stretch of the St. Louis River in the past — and also recovered bodies. With the river running high, he said, “one slip and it would have been done for these guys.”

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