Northern Utah’s twisted canyons, sheer mountains and Great Salt Lake are rife for the Instagram age, and for some people, the beauty may be worth dangerously lounging in a hammock atop an electric power line tower.
Now police in Weber County will be looking for people hanging their hammocks from the tall steel structures – an “extremely risky” action that can end with a court hearing or a potentially deadly outcome.
The Weber County Sheriff’s Office shared a Facebook post last week describing how people are climbing up a tower on the bench of North Ogden and Pleasant View – an area along the Wasatch Mountains.
Climbing power line towers is hazardous at best and can be fatal at worst, said David Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, which supplies electricity to about 1.2 million customers in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Not even the power company’s linemen scale the northern Utah tower – instead, they use lift equipment that is grounded and insulated, he said.
The power line where police most recently saw two hammocks, Eskelsen said, carries 46,000 kilovolts – an electric current that can easily kill a person, especially one lounging close to the line’s conductor.
“The problem with the higher voltages like this is you don’t actually have to touch the power lines to be grounded and get into voltage,” he said. “If you get close enough and you’re grounded – if you’re touching the steel structure – an arc can jump across the gap from the power line to you.”
Electricity behaves in a predictable way, always seeking the ground. Because of this characteristic, Eskelsen said, power line towers are raised high to keep them away from anything that could be a path to the ground. When a person gets too close to the current, they may become a channel “attractive enough to tilt the electrical energy,” he said.
As of Sunday evening, hammocks in power lines had not led to injuries, fatalities or disruptions, but Eskelsen noted the 2007 death of a 15-year-old who had climbed a tower.
Scott Nye – who was nicknamed “Sunshine” by his friends, according to the Salt Lake Tribune – was electrocuted after he climbed a power line tower in Farmington. The site of the incident has become a memorial with a message encouraging others to be careful.
The power line on the bench of North Ogden and Pleasant View is a mid-level transmission line that connects several substations, including a major interconnection point in Utah’s power grid. If an incident like the one Eskelsen described were to happen, it could disrupt the electricity distribution to thousands of Rocky Mountain Power customers.
Lounging atop the structure may provide a beautiful view, or even a rush of adrenaline, but it can also lead to a police citation for trespassing. Deputy Colleen Clarke said authorities will be driving through the area to spot the “hammockers.”
Clarke said that she has not responded to this type of dangerous feat, and that it was mostly young people who were engaging in it.
“You hear stories all the time of stupid things kids do, and it’s just another one, apparently,” she said.
Eskelsen said that all the power lines have warning posters, but that they often are ignored by risk-loving climbers.
“I don’t know whether it’s the thrill of that or it’s that they feel like they can do it safely,” he said. “My response to that would be it’s not worth the risk.”