Archives for: Columbia Gorge
On Saturday, July 11, 2015, a party of three hikers set off at 3:00 PM on a challenging hike in the Gorge, using trails that are not maintained. After scrambling up a route known as Elevator Shaft, they lost their way. They were reasonably well prepared with headlamps, extra food, water and clothing however they did not bring a map which might have helped them find a maintained trail. They were able to see the Columbia River below them and they decided to descend. They got into steeper and steeper terrain and, although they had headlamps, they made the wise decision to stay put for the night.
When they were still unable to find their way Saturday morning, they got a call out on their cell phone to a relative who called 911. Using pings from the cell phone, deputies from the Multnomah County Sherriff’s Office were able to obtain an approximate location for the group. A Hood River County Search and Rescue plane was then able to spot them from the air and advise searchers on the best way to reach them. When they heard the plane in the area the hikers scrambled to an open area and waved clothing which allowed the pilot to see them. The pilot dipped his wings side to side signaling that he saw them which raised the hiker’s spirits.
Because the hikers were lost in very steep terrain, the deputies contacted Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) around 8:00 a.m. As requested, PMR deployed a small team of two rescuers who arrived at base with ropes and other climbing gear. They joined a team of six searchers from Multnomah County Search and Rescue (MCSAR) and headed to a point on Trail 400 below the hiker’s coordinates. From there, they proceeded to bushwhack up through steep terrain and moderate brush. After about an hour of climbing, the PMR rescuers made voice contact with the subjects following a whistle blast.
The trio was in good spirits, which the rescuers attributed to their preparedness (extra food, clothing and water). One of the subjects had an ankle injury, but they determined she could be evacuated down the steep terrain without a litter, which would have been a much longer and more arduous process.
The rescuers proceeded to rig ropes for the descent and outfitted the hikers with helmets and harnesses. They rappelled down the steepest terrain and eventually met the other searchers from MCSAR. Meanwhile, a third PMR rescuer and additional rescuers from MCSAR brought additional ropes and a wheeled litter up Trail 400. The PMR rescuer rigged ropes for the lower part of the descent as hand lines. Once the party reached Trail 400 around 2:30 p.m., they loaded the injured hiker into the litter and wheeled her the rest of the way out. All rescuers were out of the field around 3:15 p.m.
The Multnomah County Sherriff’s Office frequently calls PMR to assist hikers who have become lost in steep areas of the Columbia Gorge. PMR reminds hikers that vertical cliffs and very steep, loose terrain are common throughout the Gorge. Maintained trails allow relatively safe passage through the cliffs, but traveling on old trails or cross country can lead hikers into areas where the route is not clear and the terrain is unsafe. We encourage you to know your route and stay on it, bring a map and compass and know how to use them. If ever you are unsure of your location, retrace your steps to a known point rather than wandering ahead in hopes of a lucky break. And like these hikers, be prepared with extra food, clothing and shelter.
KGW provided good coverage of the mission.
Two male hikers in their 40s set out on what they thought was a loop hike up to Munra Point and then down Ruckle Ridge in the Columbia Gorge on June 27, 2015. After completing the tough climb to the top, they attempted to descend on what they thought was the loop trail, but the trail faded and they lost their way, possibly because they had not properly understood the route and the distance between Munra Point and Ruckle Ridege. They were tired and thirsty and decided to descend a steep slope to a creek below, which was Tanner Creek. They made the difficult descent and quenched their thirst, but they were disoriented and fatigued. They were unable to get cell phone reception to call for help. It was a clear evening, so they decided to spend the night where they were and find their way out in the morning.
Sunday morning, they attempted to find a way out, but the creek is at the bottom of a steep canyon, and cliffs and waterfalls prevented them from following the creek out. Mid-morning they were able to get a weak cell phone signal and called for a rescue. Through a return call, the Multnomah County Sherriff’s Office was able to get coordinates for their location and told them to stay put. The deputies requested an aerial search, and Hood River Search and Rescue put a search plane in the air. Upon hearing the plane, the subjects moved to a location that had clear visibility from the air and waved to the plane. The pilot confirmed their location and provided GPS coordinates for searchers. The deputies first deployed Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue (PNSAR), whose teams searched for the subjects much of the morning, but with the confirmed location of the subjects at the bottom steep slopes, the deputies requested assistance from Portland Mountain Rescue at approximately noon.
PMR fielded its first team of five rescuers who left base around 1:30 p.m. and traveled by car up a limited access fire road to a position above the east side of the creek. From a location directly up slope of the subjects’ reported position, the PMR team descended 1000 feet down steep slopes to the creek. Up reaching the creek, the team split to search both sides of the creek toward the reported location. They quickly located the subjects around 2:15 p.m. resting on a tiny beach above a waterfall.
The subjects were tired and hungry but in good spirits. A medical doctor on the PMR team assessed the two subjects and found no injuries or medical conditions that would require a litter evacuation. After consuming food and water provided by the rescuers, the two subjects felt they could tackle the climb out with guidance and assistance from the rescuers. At this point, two members of PNSAR also reached the subjects and helped. A second team of PMR rescuers was positioned on the fire road with litters, ropes and technical gear, but that equipment was not needed.
The climb out of the canyon was quite steep, but the team safely, belaying themselves by grasping trees and other sturdy vegetation. Due to the subjects’ fatigue, the going was slow, but they made it back to the fire road in about two hours. By 6:00 the subjects and all rescuers were safely back at base.