Trail IQ: Ready? Set? Know before you go

What brings people to the Gorge? Chief among the reasons are the wonders of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and national forests on both sides of the river.

With the splendor and the attraction of seeing first-hand the forests, waterfalls and high vistas comes the responsibility to take care of yourself while you do it.

Deputies and volunteer responders dealt with two simultaneous incidents Tuesday that, fortunately, turned out to be relatively minor in terms of injury to the victims — both of whom ended up walking out under their own power (see story, page A8).

But matters could have been far worse, and they are indicative of the larger problem facing the law enforcement agencies of the Gorge, and volunteer responders: too many situations where responders risk their own lives to help someone who, in most cases, should have done more for themselves — mainly proper preparation for an overnight or “just a day hike.”

Sheriff’s agencies including Hood River County are strapped as it is without the need to go up trails to help people who did not read up on current trail conditions, did not bother to match their physical capabilities with the demands of the trail, did not educate themselves on the local landscape, or did not give themselves enough time to accomplish the outing they set out to do.

Most people — well over 90 percent — Hood River County Sheriff ends up helping are not from around here. Gorge folks use the local resources are generally well-informed and prepared.

Safety is the individual’s responsibility when heading onto trails and rivers. Forest Service officials ask that recreationalists respect signs, barriers, and closures, and take precautions near steep drop-offs and maintain a safe distance from the edge when taking photographs or selfies.

Hikers can check Forest Service trail conditions in the Gorge at and should wear proper footwear, bring essentials including layers of clothes, water, charged cell-phone, and extra food, choose a hike that matches their fitness level, and use caution on trails and stream crossings.

A new initiative, Ready Set Gorge ( supported by state agencies and Gorge visitor organizations, provides timely advice on fully enjoying the Gorge experience, with links to information about trails as well as traffic conditions, and closures of restrooms and other facilities, travel safety tips and ways to prevent theft especially at trailheads. (Key message: leave your valuables at home or the hotel.)

Also of critical importance in early June 2017 is the fact that creeks and streams are running high due to continuing snow melt, and water temperatures remain extremely cold. Higher elevation Gorge trails and campsites (3,800 feet and above) are still covered in snow. Larch Mountain road and recreation area have not opened for the season, due to several feet of remaining snow. Backpackers headed to Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness can expect a higher demand for fewer campsites.

“We urge people who are going to go out and hike to get information from trails from credible sources and update themselves regularly,” Sheriff Matt 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.”

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