Crabtree Falls, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Nelson County, is the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River and, sadly, one of the most dangerous. Its victims over the years have climbed onto the rocks that are deceptively slippery with moss and spray from the falls and slipped to their deaths.
Late Monday morning hikers discovered an unidentified man who had fallen 300 feet to his death. He was victim #26. The man, who reportedly owned a cabin nearby and was from Richmond, apparently had climbed over a stone wall onto a large rock and ended up below in the nearly-dry stream. Authorities reported that he was around 60 years old.
It was the first fatality since the March 2008 death of University of Richmond law school student Robert Slimak, 26, who slipped while hiking with college friends and plunged to his death.
Tragedy at the waterfall has become an all-too familiar scene over the years, prompting the park service to post prominent warning signs along the trail for hikers:
DANGER. THE ROCKS ARE COVERED WITH A PLANT GROWTH THAT MAKES THEM EXTREMELY SLIPPERY. TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE HAVE DIED WHILE CLIMBING ON THESE ROCKS. VIEW THE FALLS FROM DESIGNATED AREAS ONLY.
Fences act as barriers between the trail and the falls. Warnings are posted that hikers between 18 and 25 years old are most likely to fit the profile of those who have plunged to their deaths in the past.
And, yet, the lure of the falls entices many to climb over the fences and venture onto the rocks. Most return safely ... some do not.