Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ghosts in the Wilderness

Snow, rain, fog, travel delays, miserable weather for any activity outside. Welcome winter. Chains are required on the passes, and the road crews are out trying to clear the way for all the Thanksgiving travelers. Mt. Hood lurks behind the clouds, invisible from here. But it looms large in the wilderness.

There are ghosts out there in the woods. There is a missing hiker alone in the wilderness, not an uncommon event this time of year. As of this weekend the search turned into a recovery mission as it has been two weeks. The wilderness is not a gentle place. A day hike can turn into a nightmare very quickly. This professor from the U of O left his warm jacket, water bottle and map in his car which was found a few days after he went missing. Hikers reported meeting him on the trail that Sunday, but he never returned.

A year ago, a young family from San Francisco was lost in the coastal range. The mother and children were found, but the father died trying to get help. And despite the warm weather this past summer, searchers never found the bodies of the climbers lost on Mt. Hood last year. The mountain claims its own and does not give them back.

This area is a place of awesome beauty with Mt. Hood, the Columbia River Gorge and the Coast. But the mountain and the river and the ocean can turn deadly. This is a place that draws tourists and city dwellers who fail to recognize the power behind the beauty. Simple common sense seems to be left at home.

As I write this, the sirens of the rescue vehicles whine as they hasten up The Gorge. Another hiker lost. Another fisherman in the water. Another car down the ravine. Portland…the Gateway to natural wonders…is also the Gateway to disaster. As dawn breaks in the morning, if the cloud cover lifts, I will hear the search helicopters take off from the launch pad near here.


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