Back country rescues are part of life in the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood region, regardless of the time of year.
Responders staged searches Sunday and Monday, according to Hood River County Sheriff Matt English, the daily rate being about typical during many weeks of the year.
This year, a new system for searches-and-rescues is benefitting responders in Hood River and Multnomah counties, home to Mt. Hood and the popular Gorge trails that routinely draw hikers, swimmers and backbackers, many of whom need help getting out safely.
On Sunday Cascade Locks Fire Department volunteers and others in what is called the Reach and Treat team went up Eagle Creek Trail, at the Multnomah County border, to assist a hiker who could not get down the trail. Reaching him a few miles up, emergency medical responders and Crag Rats mountain rescue volunteers helped the man, who was able to hike out on his own, according to English.
The result was the same Monday on the Elk Cove Trail near Laurance Lake, southwest of Parkdale. A 39-year-old man had reached 9-1-1 dispatch by cellphone, saying he was dehydrated and could not make it down the trail. He was six miles up the Elk Cove Trail, but initially Crag Rat responders were uncertain whether to go up Elk Cove or the Cooper Spur trail, to the southeast. At one point, one responder radioed another saying, “He’s in never-never land,” referring to the hiker’s location between the two trail systems. After a brief back-and-forth to reconnoiter, responders determined the best way to get to him, with the help of Deputy Grant Porter doing aerial reconnaissance, according to English.
In addition to the cell phone, the man appeared “fully equipped,” including a signal mirror, but he had run out of water, according to English. At first, the man told dispatchers he was too fatigued and thirsty to move on his own, and later added that he was injured, but that proved inexact, according to English.
“Once we got some water to him, he was fine,” English said. The man walked out with his rescuers.
English said local emergency services agencies are enjoying an enhanced response system this year in what is called Reach and Treat.
All fire agencies in the county are participating, along with the Sheriff’s Office, which coordinates all search and rescue activities in the county. Using shared resources and mutual aid agreements, Reach and Treat works in association with the volunteer Crag Rats group, who routinely send personnel on mountain, glacier, or trail emergencies.
English said Reach and Treat was developed to give more relief to Crag Rats, as in recent years the team has been over-extended by the increased number of rescue calls.
English said Lt. Josh Beckner of West Side Fire Department and Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells have led the Reach and Treat endeavor, working with deputies Mike Anderson and Chris Guertin, who serve as county search and rescue coordinators.