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Teen rescues and resuscitates friend caught in the Cascades on Independence Pass, credits CPR training

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Caden Howe
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Courtesy Photo
Sawyer McKenney, left, and Colt Sutherlin hike in ice caves near the Grottos Day Use Area on June 18. Minutes later, McKenney narrowly survived a fall into the Roaring Fork River.
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Halle Zander
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Aspen Public Radio
Caden Howe stands outside Aspen Public Radio on August 5. He told the story of saving his friend Sawyer McKenney from the Roaring Fork River near the Grottos Day Use Area on June 18. Howe is now preparing to study at Lindenwood University in Missouri this fall.

Recent high school graduates Sawyer McKenney and Caden Howe, along with 12-year-old Colt Sutherlin are Roaring Fork Valley locals.

McKenney, 17, and Howe, 18, have been friends since they were in ninth grade and played rugby together at Glenwood Springs High School.

On June 18, the trio narrowly escaped tragedy at the Cascades, a beautiful and sometimes deadly series of waterfalls at the Grottos Day Use Area, where ice-cold water in the Roaring Fork River flows over slick rock.

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Brent Gardner-Smith
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Aspen Public Radio
Visitors of the Grottos Day Use Area sit alongside the Cascades, a series of waterfalls and pools near Independence Pass east of Aspen in July 2008. On June 18, Sawyer McKenney fell into the water on the right side of the upper waterfall.
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Brent Gardner-Smith
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Aspen Public Radio
The Cascades is a series of waterfalls in the Grottos Day Use Area on Independence Pass. Visitors on July 30, 2008 sit near a slippery spot where Sawyer McKenney fell into the water on June 18, 2022.

After Howe resuscitated McKenney, they walked back to the parking lot of the Grottos Day Use Area to meet first responders.

Firefighters with the Aspen Fire Protection District provided aid to the boys and then McKenney was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital.

Responding firefighters said credit for the save goes to Howe, who provided lifesaving CPR to his friend before they arrived.

McKenney has recovered and is now attending college at University of Texas at Austin.

Officials at AFPD honored Howe and Sutherlin at the downtown Aspen fire station last month.

The department is now developing CPR and Stop the Bleed training for age-appropriate school students so that more kids can be equipped for similar situations.

Halle is an award-winning journalist and the All Things Considered Anchor for Aspen Public Radio. She has been recognized for her work by the Public Media Journalists Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Before she began working full-time with Aspen Public Radio in September 2021, Halle was a freelance broadcast journalist for both Aspen Public Radio and KDNK. Halle studied environmental analysis at Pitzer College. She was an educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and at the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment program, where she taught youth radio and managed a weekly public affairs show.