Search crews called out on two trail rescues

Crag Rat Rescue volunteers and deputies with Hood River County Sheriff’s Office mobilized early Tuesday afternoon to do a search for an injured hiker on the Benson plateau area, about 8-10 miles south of the Eagle Creek fish hatchery.

A second call for a trail rescue came at the same time, on nearby Eagle Creek Trail, for a man experiencing a seizure. Sheriff Matt English and other responders went to the trailhead but did not have to make the hike, as other trail users came to the victim’s aid. They helped the man walk out, and he drove home.

The rescues join a string of recent search and rescue efforts in the Benson plateau and Eagle Creek/Ruckel Ridge areas on or near the Multnomah County border south of Cascade Locks, according to English. He expects more as the summer season kicks in, especially in those areas within easy reach of the Portland area.

English reports that the rescuers in the Benson plateau incident geared up for a long, steep hike to an unknown point halfway between the Columbia and Lost Lake, which are 17 miles apart. Gage Donegan, believed to live in Portland, called to report he had a leg injury and needed help, according to English. Donegan had started out two days ago from the Pacific Coast Trailhead in Cascade Locks.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday rescuers had not pinpointed Donegan’s location; a Sheriff’s Department airplane was aloft and rescuers were in ground communication with the victim, “but the weather not real conducive” to sighting him from the air, English said.

“This one is not going to be quick,” he said Tuesday. “There is a ton of elevation, and he’s miles up there,” English said.

Crag Rats reached Donegan at 5:30 p.m., and he was able to start down the trail on his feet. They reached the trailhead at about 9:30 p.m.

“He was able to walk out, and when he got down he refused medical treatment,” English said.

But to English it was a bittersweet resolution to a situation in which paid staff and volunteers devoted a full working day to helping someone who hiked out under his own power.

“We’re putting resources out, and they’re not free, and on top of it, they’re volunteers who are putting themselves at risk to help these people,” he said. “We’re conscious of the situation we’re putting them in and when you get up there and it is not as emergent as reported, it is a bit frustrating.”

One positive was that Donegan reportedly had “plenty of food and water, and can stay another night, he’s just unable to move very well,” English had said Tuesday.

However, many stranded or injured hikers are unprepared for the trails attempt, and for the potential for complications and danger.

An increasingly common problem is people starting out too late in the day.

“Two of the big factors are they are not prepared for the terrain or amount of time, or starting too late; heading out at 4 p.m., not having a flashlight, you can’t do five miles and expect not to have any problems,” English said.

“We are seeing a lot of activity on those Gorge trails and are getting the normal call load, and we’re preparing for another busy season,” he said. “Things had started to develop in February and March, especially in the Ruckel Creek area, and this year because of heavy snow load we are seeing snow at low elevations, later in the spring.

“People are going out, starting too late and not being prepared,” English said. “They lose the trail or get tired and cold, and it just complicates the hike. There’s no mal-intent, but many are not prepared.”

He said not all trail information resources are reliable, with information that is dated or not compiled by people who have actually hiked the trails.

Or, he said, some self-reporting on hikes are “down-playing the difficulty of some real treacherous trails.”

“We urge people who are going to go out and hike to get information from trails from credible sources and update themselves regularly,” English said. The best source, he said, is the frequently-updated United States Forest Service website.

“They keep track of conditions, and because of some pretty heavy damage over the winter they have limited capacity to clear trees and do other maintenance, but if you want to know the conditions, check their site, because they’re working hard at it.”

In July, the USFS and Sheriff’s Office will take turns staffing trailheads to help inform trail users about trail conditions and provide information about preparedness.

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