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Wild by nature

In the Wilderness, human use is not a priority and visiting warrants caution


Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Eagle Creek is within the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness of the Mt. Hood National Forest.The Mt. Hood Wilderness is within driving distance for many local hikers. But just because it is accessible doesn't mean it’s not wild.

On Tuesday, Aug. 12, heavy rain on Mount Hood caused what has been described as a flash flood. The rising Sandy River washed out a seasonal bridge on a trail leading to Ramona Falls, killing a hiker crossing the bridge.

Jennifer Wade, recreation and lands program manager for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said the area received 4-8 inches of rain, causing the river to rise 4-8 feet in a very short time. “With a fluctuation that extreme, the results were a flash flood,” she said.

As of now, the seasonal bridge that was washed out has not been replaced and won’t be until next year.

According to Laura Pramuk, public affairs officer for the Mt. Hood National Forest, there have been conversations online among hikers about placing a sturdier, more permanent bridge for safety reasons — something the U.S. Forest Service is unlikely to do.

“To place a bridge and make sure the river stays under it is a challenge,” Wade said. She explained the seasonal bridge is placed through the summer months as a minimally invasive footbridge for hikers. But since the glacial streams coming off Mount Hood can move up to a mile over time, a permanent bridge would be impractical.

The Sandy River crossing in question is located within the Mt. Hood Wilderness, an area designated by the Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Wilderness Stewards work on a trail in the Mt. Hood National Forest.Wilderness Act of 1964, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 3.

Under the Wilderness Act, wilderness areas are allowed very little or no human influence. Constructing a permanent bridge would go well beyond that rule.

“Using that much intervention in the wilderness is not appropriate,” Wade said, adding that the Forest Service has to allow the Sandy River to change its course as it would naturally.

The seasonal bridge that was on Trail No. 797 to Ramona Falls was the only one the Forest Service placed in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Many other trails crossing rivers and streams on Mount Hood require hikers to get across the river on their own.

The Forest Service offers many tips for being prepared to ford the river safely. Since glacial streams are at their lowest in the morning, hikers should plan ahead and cross in the early morning. Hikers also should check the weather ahead of time and be willing to turn back if conditions appear unsafe. More safety tips can be found online at fs.fed.us/r6/mthood.

“This is a wild place and things can change,” Pramuk said. “It’s important to be prepared.”

Pramuk said that since the Mt. Hood Wilderness is so accessible to folks in the area, people often forget that it is still wilderness.

More than 10 years ago, Sarah Bishop was hiking alone in the Mt. Hood Wilderness when she attempted to cross the Sandy River. She was unable to get across safely and drowned.

Since then, her family has made it a goal to raise awareness among hikers about appropriate safety procedures.

“We want people to enjoy their public lands,” Wade said, “but do it safely.”

Although wilderness wasn’t designated for recreation, Wade said, with the correct attitude the Wilderness Act allows outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the wonder of the natural world without the influence of man.

The Mt. Hood National Forest recommends that every day hiker and backpacker be prepared with the 10 essentials while in the wilderness.

Every person must carry:

A map of the area

A compass

A flashlight and extra batteries

Sunglasses

Extra food

Extra clothing (in fabrics that retain warmth when wet)

A pocket knife

A first aid kit

Matches in a waterproof container

A candle or fire starter

Wearing waterproof boots and carrying raingear and a waterproof tent also is recommended.

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