Eagle Creek – January 2014
I moved to Portland in 1997. At that time, the Eagle Creek parking lot would fill summer weekends only; and even then it was remarkable. I thought there’d be no troubles on a Sunday in January. I was wrong. The overflow lot was required. Portland has more people; more people get out and hike. This is a good thing, right?
I loaded up my pack (missing only 2 of the 10 essentials: a map – not necessary on this out-and-back trail I’ve hiked over 20 times; and extra food – I had a sandwich and an apple, but not enough calories for an extended stay) and headed up the trail, passing groups of slower hikers. Soon, there was a traffic jam. Hikers on the way up had paused to listen to a woman coming down the trail with the warning, “About 10 minutes up, it’s icy. I’m a mountaineer. And that trail is hazardous.” We all pressed on.
About 5 minutes later, we see one gal scooting down the trail (at that point about a 10% grade) on her butt. A friend coached her, “it’s like skiing.” Others took the trail slowly and carefully. It wasn’t that bad.
The sun was shining, the ice was melting, the day was warming up. Soon, I’d left the crowds, passed Punch Bowl Falls, and continued up the trail.
There were only a few short icy spots on the way to the 4 1/2 mile bridge. I hiked on to one of my favorite little resting spots, had a snack and took a photo of my two hiking companions.
On my return trip, I noticed that the weather wasn’t warming to the predicted 50°F. Rather, the wind had picked up and the temperature dropping. Previous sections of the trail which were a bit icy had become icier; slushy areas were turning in to skating rinks. I picked up my pace on sections of the trail that I knew were clear.
Just after the trail passed Punch Bowl falls and was heading toward the river crossing (the one you have to jump rocks), I fell. Hard. On my knees. A bit banged up, my pride hurt more than the bruises. Someone who was walking equally fast behind me caught up to me after I’d wiped the mud off my hiking slacks. He struck up a conversation. I learned about his day, his favorite waterfalls to photograph, how he’d fallen as well. We noted the large numbers of hikers heading up the trail so late in the day and who tended to
- a. be wearing thin layers, often cotton. Which may have been OK going up river, since the wind was at their back and they were exerting on the uphill and probably not so comfortable on the return trip.
- b. not carrying much of a pack (*maybe* they had water and a hat or gloves); I saw whole groups of people with only light clothing and not one back pack
- c. not mind the weather, the waning sunlight nor the trail which was getting slicker by the minute.
My new hiking companion and I were walking carefully.
We came across four hikers in the trail discussing the conditions. Like us, they were trying to get off the trail safely. Whooosh! the gal in front of me slid and landed hard on her right arm. Her shoulder went “POP”. She was in pain, clutching her arm, and saying, “My arm. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not broken, but…it’s out or something.”
The guy she was with said, “I don’t know what to do. Does anyone know what to do?” The two other people who had also been standing there said, “I don’t know what to do either. She looks hurt.”
“I’m a Wilderness First Responder,” I said.
“I’m a nurse,” my new companion said. Nice.
We did a quick assessment of the injury and determined she didn’t need anyone to reduce the joint. He helped the two of them – she and her boyfriend were pretty shook up – and I helped the other couple who were now even more freaked out about the trail. I showed her how to identify the parts of the trail which were less slippery. The trail smoothed out; my companion left the couple he was tending; I left the couple I was helping, and he and I walked out together. I was back to my car around 2:30. 9+ miles in less than 4 1/2 hours, including breaks, photographs and helping folks the last mile or so. (The other 4 all got out safely.)
2:30PM, and still groups of people, dressed in inappropriate clothing, without back packs, were heading up the quickly darkening trail. The official sun set was at 5:04 PM, but the sun was already dipping behind the mountain crest making the trail dark. If they were walking 2 mph to Punchbowl (which would be tricky with the ice), they’d be on the trail for 2 hours, leaving them 30 minutes of daylight. Not a very big window should someone fall and need extra time to walk out. I’m surprised we don’t hear about more accidents.