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.