Evolution of the Crag Rats

Nov. 13 lecture reveals history of mountain rescue organization

As the oldest mountain rescue organization in North America, the Crag Rats have a lot of history.

This Wednesday, the Hood River County Library will be hosting Bill Pattison, Crag Rat historian, who will be giving a talk about the history of the volunteer organization, how it evolved, and where it stands today. The lecture, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the Reading Room of the library, is part of a series of free events the library puts on for “people in our community to present on topics that may be of interest to the community,” according to Assistant Library Director Rachael Fox.

For those who want to read up on the Crag Rats before the presentation, the group’s website provides a great deal of information as well as photos of the organization’s early days, which started official operations in 1926.

According to the website, the group was formed of Hood River Valley hikers who liked to climb Mount Hood together. Their namesake, as the story goes, came from a “name one of their wives had called them after a day of climbing on the crags of Mount Hood,” and it has stuck for the past 87 years.

Pattison, who said he has been with the Crag Rats since he was first invited to join the group in September 1953, said that in some ways, few things have changed over the years.

“Basic snow and rock and rescue techniques are in a lot of ways the same as what they were back then,” he noted. “We’ve just refined them a little.”

Pattison said the Crag Rats also honor tradition by wearing their signature black-and-white checkered shirts — a distinctive pattern that helped rescuers stand out from the bleak, white landscape of Mount Hood in the days before neon colors were en vogue.

“Back then, you didn’t have the limes and the oranges and the fiery reds of today,” he explained. “It was mostly blacks, whites and browns.”

What began as a small hiking group in 1926 has today grown to 105 members, according to Pattison, who said that 30 of those members have search-and-rescue certifications from the Oregon Sheriffs’ Organization. As more people come to the area for outdoor recreation, the Crag Rats find themselves called upon more and more to help find lost or injured hikers on Mount Hood and other parts of the Columbia River Gorge.

For more information, visit www.cragrats.org or www.hoodriverlibrary.org.

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