Around 2:30 on January 6, 2014, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office requested Portland Mountain Rescue to assist in the search for a hiker missing in the vicinity of Zig Zag Mountain. The subject, Gary Tuor (age 71), his dog Buddy and Abel Caba (age 38) had been hiking on Sunday, January 5, near Devil’s Meadow. They were unable to return before nightfall and somehow became separated. Abel eventually managed to find his way back to the trailhead on Monday, although he was injured by a fall along the way. Gary and the dog, however, did not return.
Gary’s wife contacted the sheriff’s office around noon on Monday to report them missing. She found their truck and Caba at the trailhead a short while later. Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office mobilized Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue, Search One K-9 and Portland Mountain Rescue to conduct a ground search of the area. The deputies also enlisted communications assistance from Mountain Wave and aerial searching by the National Guard (using FLIR technology).
Initially the search area was large and poorly defined due to limited information about where Gary had last been seen. Around 5:30 p.m., however, the National Guard helicopter spotted a campfire near the top of Zig Zag Mountain ridge at around 4500 feet. A plan was quickly formed to dispatch two PMR teams to the location using different routes. Both teams deployed from Base at around 6:00 p.m. Based on conditions encountered in the field, however, both teams ended up following the same route. Well up the trail, they found tracks in the snow of a single hiker and a dog. They followed these tracks toward the reported location of the campfire. Meanwhile, the National Guard helicopter refueled and was back in the air using its search light to help guide the rescuers to the target. Around 8:00 p.m., the deputy deployed a third PMR team to approach the location along an old abandoned road now called Burnt Lake Trail and then bushwhack uphill toward the ridge.
Around 9:30, all three PMR teams converged on the location and immediately found Gary and his dog. After gulping some hot drink and a snack, Gary and his Buddy hiked out with the PMR rescuers. They were all back safely at the trailhead around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 7.
The subject was fortunate that conditions were clear (so aerial searching was possible) and dry (so he stayed reasonable dry). Conditions were dramatically different only 12 hours later, which could have significantly affected chances of survival. The subject was smart to use his lighter (his one piece of survival gear) to light a fire that provided warmth and signaled his position to the helicopter. A flashlight might have prevented Tuor and Caba from separating and becoming lost as darkness fell. PMR urges hikers to know their route and carry a map, compass and other navigation aids. We also urge all back country travelers to carry enough equipment to stay warm and dry through at least one night in case they are lost.
Link to Oregon Live report: http://www.oregonlive.com/clackamascounty/index.ssf/2014/01/police_credit_campfire_in_resc.html