Portland Mountain Rescue had the privilege of giving three backcountry travelers the gift of coming home safely to their families for the holidays. On Saturday, December 22, 2012, the party of three adults left the White River West Snopark bound for the White River Hut for the night to celebrate a birthday. They were attempting to follow the Mineral Creek Trail on the south side of State Highway 35.
Over six feet of snow had accumulated in the area during the prior week and snow was still coming down. Breaking trail through deep snow in challenging terrain combined with difficulty finding and staying on the trail impeded their progress and exhausted them. The two women were on snow shoes and the man was on cross country skis. They were unable to find the hut before dark and kept searching through the night.
Understanding their predicament, they moved about in attempts to obtain a connection on their cell phone. They managed to connect to 911 sometime early on Sunday, but the connection was poor. The 911 system was unable to get a fix on their location through the phone’s GPS.
On Sunday, the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office activated the Crag Rats to search the White River area north of Highway 35, which was the area suggested by the limited information available by estimating their location from the cell phone signal. The Crag Rats did not locate them before dark and the search was curtailed until Monday morning. Sometime Sunday afternoon, the lost party managed to establish a good cell phone connection and communicated their exact coordinates to the Sheriff. This location was near Mineral Creek about 4 miles southwest of the snopark on Highway 35.
Sunday night, the Sheriff asked Portland Mountain Rescue to assist searching on Monday. Twelve PMR members and three rescuers from the Crag Rats formed three teams at dawn on Monday. Two teams were inserted by snow cats that transported them south on different Forest Service roads. The third team traveled on skis down Mineral Creek, attempting to follow the trail. All three teams intended to search different routes and converge on the coordinates the lost party gave the sheriff.
By 10:15 a.m., the first team to reach the coordinates quickly made contact with the lost party using voice and whistle calls. The three were tired, cold and hungry, but otherwise healthy. After hot drinks and high calorie snacks, the party agreed they could travel on foot aided by the rescuers. The quickest evacuation route required climbing a steep 1000 vertical feet and about a mile to reach a snow cat waiting on a ridge. Deep snow, heavy packs, challenging terrain and inadequate gear made this an exhausting and slow endeavor for the lost party, even with considerable help from the rescuers. After a three-hour effort, everyone was loaded on the snow cat and they arrived back at the snopark to waiting family and friends around 3:00 p.m.
Portland Mountain Rescue urges back country travelers to check and understand back country conditions before setting out. Set objectives consistent with the conditions and the skill and strength of your party. Research unfamiliar territory and plan navigation in advance. Plot waypoints on your map and enter them in a GPS. Then set a turn-round time and head back to safety if you have not reached your destination by that time.