The Hood River Crag Rats are an all-volunteer, donation-funded search and rescue team. In 2022, they responded to over 50 calls near Mount Hood and in the gorge.
MOUNT HOOD, Oregon – Perched at 6,000 feet, Cloud Cap Inn sits at the base of the north side of Mount Hood. The historic building was once owned by the US Forest Service, but is now home to the Hood River Crag Rats.
The all-volunteer organization is funded solely by donations.
“This is pretty much the beginning of modern American mountain rescue…this is home,” said Crag Rats member Heiko Stopsack.
A Seattle-area paramedic and an avalanche backcountry ski educator before that, Stopsack has been on the team for four years. He could talk all day about why people get in trouble and need to call for help.
“Asking our recreational users to be a little more thoughtful and prepared before entering the wilderness or the mountains,” Stopsack said. “In the last few years. The numbers just go up and up.”
The Crag Rats hit a record number of rescue missions this year — 53 missions as of Sept. 8 between Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.
In central Oregon, search and rescue teams from Lane County and Deschutes County assisted a couple near South Sister over Labor Day weekend.
Sergeant Tom Speldrich of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office reports high call volume, but nothing atypical from other years. What is higher is the number of drownings in the county.
“I spoke the other day with one of our SAR managers about the volume of SAR calls. Although the volume is quite high, the volume of search and rescue type service calls is not particularly higher than in recent years. Drownings in water appear to be quite frequent this year as well and likely to exceed in recent years. We’re already at 11 or 12 in Lane County this year,” Speldrich said by email.
“Sometimes the Hood River Crag Rats come out twice a day, if not back-to-back rescues,” Stopsack said as he gazed up at Mount Hood. “It’s tiring, but that’s what we signed up for.”
From rolled ankles to exhaustion to the most serious incidents, the Crag Rats react to everything in Hood River County. The group has assisted missions in the Olympic National Forest, near Mount St. Helens, and other locations in the Pacific Northwest.
Stopsack said he takes no mercy for the work they do, as crashes happen on flatter trails and more technical routes. It is the preparation of hikers and climbers that can mitigate some of the risk.
“Whether it’s a hike they believe has minor consequences, endurance or difficulty, they must be prepared to take care of themselves or their companion traveling with them. “Stopsack said.
Stopsack recommends people consider their surroundings and knowledge of hiking gear. Hikers should be familiar with the “ten essentials”.
“Whatever it is, it can be a very technical rescue or someone who just forgot their headlamp and is stuck in the dark and it’s an easy way out,” said said Stopsack. “Being there for our fellow citizen or someone in our community is a great experience, and that’s the reward for any Crag Rat.”
He encourages people to get out and explore the outdoors, but to do so responsibly, both for themselves and for others, like these search and rescue volunteers.
“These are our public lands. It’s so everyone can enjoy it,” Stopsack said. “And we should go out there and enjoy it. But we should also think about it. »
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