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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

63

Mount Defiance at Starvation Ridge

Everything considered, the whole experience couldn’t have gone much better.

We were, after all, trying to be more proactive in our summer. Emily and I were newly single and acutely aware of our need to be doing Fun Things, but by July those Fun Things had manifested mostly as laziness in varied locations. We spent our days lying on couches, lying on lawns, and lying on beaches. On one of those supine afternoons, we got to talking about how rarely we took advantage of the many opportunities that lay beyond the Portland city limits. Three years ago I’d moved to the Pacific Northwest to be “more in touch with nature” and in those three years I’d been on exactly two hikes and one interrupted camping excursion. We worked ourselves into a huff over this lamentable truth: one’s grand notions of relocation never totally align with the inevitable reality because one always seems to get sucked into the drudgery of routine no matter where one resides. But weren’t our recent breakups the necessary jolts out of such drudgery? And weren’t we young and relatively free of responsibility and, for the most part, capable? Hadn’t we agreed that we were saying yes to life?

So we decided to go on a hike.

We did a bit of research (which is to say we inquired with Wendy, the beloved instructor of our Lower Body & Abs fitness class) and we settled on a summit of Mt. Defiance at Starvation Ridge. It did not matter that both names sounded like made-up horror movie locations from The Hills Have Eyes and it did not matter that Wendy quickly retracted this first suggestion with a second email, warning us that this was “one of the most strenuous hikes in Oregon” and that, on second thought, we definitely should not attempt it. It definitely did not matter that it was 12 miles in length and 4900 feet in elevation, or that the writers of PortlandHikers.org rated it as “Difficult (and that’s only because we don’t have anything harder).” It didn’t matter! Please! I’d hiked twice in Oregon (not to mention the five or so trails I’d braved in the unforgiving wilderness of Long Island) and Emily walked pretty regularly. In fact she hardly ever took the bus anywhere. So, obviously, we were settled.  

We stocked up at Trader Joe’s on the morning of the hike, filling our backpacks with Cliff bars, water bottles, and two pounds of banana chips. I packed a notebook and a novel, so certain was I that this would be a perfect opportunity to really commune with the muses. The drive to the trailhead took a little over an hour and we spent the trip "ooh"-ing and "aah"-ing at the scenery as it unfolded in front of us. When we got out of the car we were already in earshot of the first waterfall. “This is the life!” we said. “How are we not doing this all the time???” we wondered. The sky was clear and we were filled with optimism. Nature! With self-satisfied eagerness, we began.

We were panic-stricken around hour eight. Having successfully summited (wherein “successfully” means “stopping once to cry, walking the last mile backwards and sideways to ease the back pressure, and — finally — so help me — stumbling to the top”), and having decided, unwisely, to take a different route back down (because — based on the map we vaguely recalled but never printed — the trail was called a loop and returning the same way we’d arrived seemed silly), and having noticed a perfect storm of alarm (the leveling off our decline, the distant sound of thunder, and the sudden proximity of Mt. Hood, which, for the ease of perspective, had appeared from the peak of Mt. Defiance to be the size of my thumb and was separated from us by a river), we ultimately found ourselves at a fork in the trail, ready to admit what we’d quietly suspected for far too long: we were very, very lost. We clutched our non-smart phones — Emily’s receiving no service, mine with dying battery — and agreed I would have to be the one to make the call.

“911, where is your emergency?”

“Well, that’s the thing, I don’t know? Which sort of is the emergency?”

“Sorry?”

“No, no, I’m sorry. My friend and I went for a hike but we must have taken a wrong turn on the way back and we’ve been walking for a few hours and I just have no idea where we are so I’m hoping maybe you can walk me through this? Because it’s getting late and it sounds like it’s about to start storming, and I’m not sure — “

“Okay, what is your name?”

“Arianna.”

“And where did you begin the hike?”

“Starvation Creek. The Starvation-Defiance loop.” (To reiterate, these are the real names of real locations.)

“What sort of tools do you have on you?”

"Um, a pocket knife? And, I don’t know if this is relevant, but we found walking sticks, like really big walking sticks? We could probably fend off maybe a smaller animal with them, but not a bear or anything.”

“I … don’t think you’ll have to fight any bears.”

“Are you sure, though?”

“I’m fairly sure. How about a compass, a map?”

I looked at the scene as it was laid out in front of me and winced.

“Banana chips. We have banana chips.”

It turned out that banana chips, though delicious, were unfortunately insufficient tools in the operator’s mind (and not [if we’re going to split hairs] technically “tools” at all). After giving her the details of my car, where we’d parked, and which direction we’d headed in before finding ourselves so astray, I was told to expect a return phone call from the sheriff, who would be sent out to find us within a half hour.

This seemed a bit much even in my desperate state. The sheriff? THE sheriff? Wasn’t there someone in a lesser position who should be relegated to the job of locating naïve, scared, but, realistically, barely-in-danger city girls? Did this mean we were actually in more danger than I initially suspected? I considered the possibility that my notion of a sheriff, so thoroughly based in spaghetti western tropes, was not entirely accurate and tried to shrug it off. I walked in circles around Emily, every few seconds checking my phone to see the battery level.

“You know, activating it like that is actually going to make the battery run out faster,” Emily warned me, her mouth full.

I sat down next to her and placed the phone on the ground in front of me. “Stop eating our only source of sustenance.”

While the thunder continued in the distance, the sky above us, though dimming, remained clear. The temperature rapidly dropped and a half hour passed with no call. I spent the time scouting possible areas of shelter. We were surrounded by pretty dense brush, and I imagined that, between the two of us, Emily and I could fashion a respectable lean-to. I pictured myself burrowing under a pile of leaves and twigs. I’m going to make it, I thought. I’m a survivor. As I was envisioning myself bravely crawling out of my imaginary fortress into the glaring morning sun, I heard the low rumbling of a motor. I jumped up and ran towards the sound, almost meeting the oncoming all-terrain vehicle head-on.

“Are you the sheriff?” I yelled to the driver as he rolled to a stop.

He was not. He was Terry.

Terry was, by my estimation, in his early 60s and resembled a sort of lumberjack-styled Santa Claus. He was a hefty man, rugged, with a flowing head of white hair and a head-to-toe camouflage get-up. Born and raised in the region, he’d swapped hiking for four-wheeling decades prior and was very familiar with the trails. This sort of thing happened all the time, he told us. City kids come in and don’t realize how quickly the land changes around them. “That same trail you walk up is a new trail when you’re walking back down!” he explained.

I nodded solemnly. Wise words for sure, and I made a mental note to jot it down when I returned to civilization.

“Well, you girls are about an hour drive from your car, at least,” Terry continued, “and there’s no way you’re making that walk.”

I resisted the urge to defend my clearly lacking capabilities. “Is there an outlet closer?” I asked. “Somewhere that we could just try to hitchhike?”

Terry laughed in a way that could only be described as a hoot and slapped the seat behind him. “You’re hitchhiking right now, sweetheart!”

Standing cold in a thin Hanes undershirt and shorts, glancing at Emily with her hand in the ever-diminishing banana chip bag, I accepted this as our new plan. Terry explained that we were to ride with him to the closest campsite, at which point he would hand us over to his friend Callie, who had a car and could drive us to the trailhead. We used my phone to call Callie, and Terry — bless his soul — offered me his coat. He tried to allay our fears (“Don’t worry, I’m not one of those rapists or anything,” he insisted in the least assuring way) and I called 911 again to tell them thanks, but never mind! We’d found Terry.

We climbed onto the seat of the ATV, Emily holding onto Terry and myself holding onto her. The seat was not meant to fit three people, and I spent much of the exhilarating and terrifying ride teetering off the edge, imagining myself tumbling off into the dust behind them. Any conversation that Emily tried to make (of which there was plenty — Emily’s capacity for social function in the face of anxiety far surpasses mine) was lost on me. I heard hardly anything over the wind that was whipping my face, and I am grateful for this fact if only because it means I will never have to know for sure whether or not Terry actually did attempt what would have certainly been a sexist joke involving cavemen and “their women.”

When we got to the campsite, Callie was already waiting. We pulled up next to the driver’s seat window.

“Got some girls for ya!” Terry said.

Callie was unamused. I meekly waved.

“Well, let’s get a move on, LeAnn needs to be back by ten,” she said, gesturing at the teenaged girl in the passenger seat.

“Yeah, by ten,” LeAnn reiterated, glaring at the ill-prepared city girls responsible for her ruined Friday night. A goatee-d boy sitting behind her squeezed her shoulder in commiseration.

We bid Terry farewell and hopped off the ATV in a stream of gratitude and apologies that continued into Callie’s backseat. We spent the hour-long drive back to my car slowly warming up to each other. Emily asked LeAnn about her big weekend plans. Callie and I bonded over waiting tables. LeAnn informed us that Jeff, the goatee-d boy, who maintained a not unsettling silence throughout the entirety of the trip, had just graduated from high school. We offered our congratulations and he nodded with a smile. We listened mostly to Kid Rock, though LeAnn did interrupt it to play us a song we later identified as “Rocking the Beer Gut” by Trailer Choir — a song she confidently and correctly predicted we would enjoy, if we really listened to the lyrics. When we pulled into the trailhead parking lot, we offered Callie all of the cash we had and promised we’d come in to visit her at her restaurant. Emily collapsed open-armed on the hood of my car and I unlocked the doors, thinking I’d never again be so happy to see a rundown and worn-out Toyota Corolla.

Three weeks later, sitting with Emily in the lounge chairs of our favorite teashop, I received a text from an unknown number:

“Hello, this is Terry, I go to tell people my story, I say, I was coming down the corner and I saw these two girls, and I have to help them, and they say, yeah, sure, nice one, they think I’m lying, but I guess that’s life. Anyway, bye.”

Arianna Rebolini lives, writes, and serves people Thai food in Brooklyn.

63 Comments / Post A Comment

MilesofMountains

I kept wincing the whole time I was reading, but still, hilarious story!

aphrabean

@MilesofMountains Totally, on both counts! It's also why my boyfriend and I want to write a children's book called "Nature Will Kill You!" Got to drill that message home while they're young.

sceps yarx

@MilesofMountains It's refreshing to read a humble story bout someone having a humbling experience in nature. The tone seems to be, 'yep, we were dumbasses'. Like, actual self-deprecation without any self-congratulatory ironic faux self-deprecation mixed in. As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest and has a healthy fear of long hikes, I approve this message.

Snicker-snack!

@MilesofMountains Yep. As someone who lives in the PNW and LOVES long hikes but has a healthy fear of stepping foot off the trail and never takes "shortcuts" ever, I, too, love the tone of this story.

Ophelia

@sceps yarx Agreed, though I'm from the Northeast.

Michael Griffin@twitter

@MilesofMountains, et al. Umm...they got spooked because they weren't sure which fork in a (popular, well traveled) trail to take, called 911 and got the sheriff to fetch 'em all while within earshot of the road. This ain't exactly "nature will kill you" material. It's an entertaining story for sure, but there's no need to get get all "be very afraid" over their panic.

fabel

I love this, especially the end.

City_Dater

@fabel

Me too. Terry is the best texter who ever texted.

Reginal T. Squirge

BUT WHAT DID SHE WRITE IN RESPONSE!?

nonvolleyball

oh, THOSE rapists.

meetapossum

Ah, and now I just remembered that I left my hiking boots at my parents' (yet again) while knowing full well that I'm going hiking this weekend. Damn it.

Elizabeth Switaj@twitter

Sure hope your 911 calls didn't increase response time for anyone with a life-threatening emergency. Cute story, I guess.

aeroaeroaero

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter Oh come the fuck on. What were they supposed to do? Nothing in this (funny, not "cute", funny) story paints their story as anything less that poorly thought-out and ill planned. Grow a sense of humor.

Lustful Cockmonster

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter Yeah, I don't understand the animosity. How would you have handled this? I would love to hear your well thought out survival list for getting lost in the woods after hiking for eight hours so I can take copious notes.

stuffisthings

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter I think 911 is probably set up to handle more than one call at a time?

stuffisthings

@stuffisthings Also I hope the banana plantation workers who harvested the bananas for your banana chips weren't murdered by a right-wing militia for trying to join a labor union.

Banana.

MilesofMountains

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter I think she did the right thing there. The stupidest thing people do when they're lost in the wilderness is to wander around. She'd still have to end up making a call, but then instead of taking up the time of a 911 operator and a sheriff, it'd be a dozen Search and Rescue guys and a $4000/hr helicopter spending a day or two trying to find someone who followed some goat trail to the middle of nowhere.

mainesqueeze

@Lustful Cockmonster Let's see, their gym instructor told them they shouldn't do it and the trail rating site said it was one of the hardest hike in the state. Maybe it would have been a better idea to try, say, a 4-mile hike first before attempting something this difficult.

stuffisthings

@MilesofMountains Yeah but what they didn't tell you is that while The Sheriff was distracted bad cowboys rode into town and rustled up all the cattle and then all the miners were laid off and the townsfolk had to sell their land to the railroad company. CUTE STORY.

Reginal T. Squirge

I hope the countless animals nearby didn't face immediate extinction when you stomped all over their habitat.

aphrabean

@Lustful Cockmonster Well, I can't speak for the original commenter, but if you grow up in or near wild areas at all, you get super used to stories of people who do not understand how nature works doing really dumb stuff and getting search and rescue called on them, in a best case scenario. It can engender some serious frustration especially when it's totally, totally avoidable! I've actually lost a loved one to activities that could be chalked up to "doing dumb shit in nature" and while I thought this story was funny, (mitigated by the fact that search and rescue was not called out and that they both seemed to learn their lesson) I can totally get being annoyed by it as well.

Snicker-snack!

@aeroaeroaero Yeah, considering that the most probable alternative was the girls wandering around in the woods, getting more lost, and the authorities having to mount a search and rescue expedition to find them, calling 911 was possibly the smartest thing they did that day.
I get impatient with folks who head into the backwoods without maps, compasses, etc, but it's not like I haven't done the same. Sometimes people make bad decisions and need help. It's part of being people.

aphrabean

@aphrabean Also Angel's Rest is a very nice hike that's pleasant, a reasonable climb, pretty, and populated enough that you'd have to try REALLY hard to get lost.

Lustful Cockmonster

@mainesqueeze This was of course ill-conceived, and she doesn't deny that. In fact, that is kind of the point of the story. I am still wondering what she should have done instead of calling 911 when they found themselves in that situation. Were we all never to do ill-conceived things, I supposed the world would be a better place, but that is a pretty lofty goal...

I guess they could have called Wendy and told her to come get them for suggesting it in the first place...

Elsajeni

@mainesqueeze Sure, but that doesn't actually help once you've attempted the difficult hike and gotten lost. Were they supposed to build a time machine out of bark and twigs and tell their past selves not to do it?

Also, it doesn't actually sound like the difficulty or length of the hike was the problem -- if they'd thought to bring the map with them, they would most likely have made it back to the car. It's not like they called 911 because they got halfway up the mountain and were tired and wanted someone to come get them.

stuffisthings

@aphrabean How about this, I'll trade you your lost city hikers for all our suburban/rural jackasses who stand in the middle of escalators while I'm trying to get somewhere. Deal?

aphrabean

@stuffisthings Ha! I live in Chicago now, and I accept your offer! At least the escalator-standers won't die from my ragey-mind-waves? Also: 100% less likely to start a forest fire! You are getting a raw deal, here, friend.

mainesqueeze

@Elsajeni @Lustful Cockmonster

Sorry, I just don't find stories like this very amusing. Please see aphrabean above for an eloquent explanation as to why. These girls were so clueless, they didn't even think to bring a map!

MilesofMountains

@Snicker-snack! I feel like "how not to die in the woods" is a thing that should be taught in school. I'm not going to judge the people in this story too much because unless you have friends or family who spend much time in the bush it's not even going to occur to you to bring a compass or a brush saw on a hike, let alone know how to use either one. And frankly I've seen some experienced people do some stupid, stupid things in the woods (e.g. everyone who brings a pack of beer tubing)

Elsajeni

@mainesqueeze Fair enough. The main thing I object to is really the original comment faulting them for calling 911 -- as a couple other people pointed out, that was the smartest thing they did all day. Yes, better to plan in advance and avoid the dangerous situation in the first place, but I read it more as "It was stupid and selfish of you to call for help" than as "It was stupid of you not to think ahead so you wouldn't need help."

PatatasBravas

@Elsajeni I agree. I have a friend who does the search/rescue missions in the Sisters range, and by god, I really hope that the silly kids who get lost call 911 rather than put my friend (and his coworkers/covolunteers) into harm's way by procrastinating on their embarrassment by calling for help at the very last minute.

It was a goofy story, but they knew when they needed help, which is a crucial adult realization.

blueblazes

I also live in what one might call "outer" Portland. And I spend perhaps too much time on godforsaken forest roads. And what I have noticed over the past five years or so is the incredible proliferation of cell signal. So next time I get stranded on a mountain somewhere at least I can comfort myself with the warming light of Netflix for iPhone. Glad you made it out OK.

whateverlolawants

@blueblazes That's good. I still remember that sad story a few years back of the young parents and child who got stranded in the snow on a back road, and the husband died in the woods. That inspired me to put lots of "winter survival items" in my car, even though I live in a large midwestern city. You never know.

redheaded&crazy

I had to come down here before finishing the story to say I thought those names WERE made up. YES I JUST HAD TO. Starvation ridge!?!

aphrabean

@redheaded&crazie The West will murder you in the face! Somebody probably DID starve there. Even the places with nice-ish sounding names, like "Independence Rock", are named that because if you were on the Oregon trail, and you didn't make this rock by Independence Day, you probably ended up stranded in the Sierra Nevadas, eating your wagon-mates.

Megasus

@redheaded&crazie Did you never play Oregon Trail!? People were all about starving in/on the way to Oregon.

Elsajeni

@redheaded&crazie Lewis and Clark named a lot of places in the PNW, and clearly they were not in a great mood by the time they got here.

rosaline

@Elsajeni Prime example: the Salmon River, a.k.a. the River of No Return!

Elsajeni

@rosaline I think it's a miracle there's no Fuck-Your-Stupid-Face-Meriwether Bay, honestly.

PatatasBravas

@Megano! I NEED TO PLAY THE OREGON TRAIL. That should definitely make the Sharepin. Anyone got a disc of the Trail that isn't the shitty online version?

ThatWench

@PatatasBravas There are plenty of ways to download a copy, which I did in undergrad, which in turn was a major addition of dorm room cool points (note: at no time did my dorm room ever achieve the point threshold of "cool").

All you need is an Apple IIe emulator (I never get un-bemused by making my 2011 PC pretend to be a 1983 Apple IIe) and a ROM of the game. Both of these are easily located by a google search, and since no one gets the former for any reason other than playing the latter, they should be easily found on the same website.

If the semi-piracy nature of this (a game developed in 1971 by a long out-of-business "company") rubs you wrong, feel free to go give $10 to an indie game kickstarter or your favorite charity.

SeaKat

@redheaded&crazie

My personal PNW naming favorite is "Dismal Nitch".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dismal_Nitch

Buffalo Bill's defunct

Wendy! Ha, I loved that abs class!

fruiting body

@Buffalo Bill's defunct
Yes! I also came down here to say how much I loved that class!

itiresias

My best friend went on a hiking/camping trip a couple of years ago in March, on New Hampshire's Mt. Prospect. She planned it for her boyfriend at the time, who was emotionally horrible to her and turned her into a stubborn, raving crazy person who was convinced the world was against her and therefore never listened to a shred of advice without ensuing offense. He was from Oregon and, now living in Boston, missed the outdoors.

If you remember that spring, it snowed a shitload. In March, the ice was just beginning to break and melt. I don't even think they followed a trail. They didn't have the correct spikes on their boots. They didn't have waterproof boots. The streams were flowing down the mountain everywhere, heavily, causing occasional rock slides, crossing their paths so they literally had to fjord them. One naive friend of ours went with the two of them. They read there was a shelter at the top of the mountain and just assumed they would sell food there. They didn't. My friend fell in a river on day one and realized she might lose toes to frostbite. She said she's never felt so close to death as climbing up and down the steeper inclines of the mountain, covered in ice, knowing if she slipped even a little she would definitely break something in the fall and her companions would not be able to carry her very far.

This is what I was expecting when I read this story. Glad it turned out better for the author, and glad I've been reminded how goddamn safe you need to be about adventures.

madamvonsassypants

This is my area! I drive through that highway of oohs and aahs every day! That said, people get lost, injured or worse all the time in these here hills, especially on Mt. Hood itself. My dad is a member of a local search and rescue group and these stories are more common than they should be.

There are nice picnic tables at the Starvation Ridge rest area, I should note.

ingrid.tuesday

I hike in the Columbia Gorge pretty frequently but I've never tried Mount Defiance. Having read this, I may never. BUT IT'S SUCH A COOL NAME.

PatatasBravas

I know I'm really late to this party but... mostly I was excited not to find any "Deliverance" jokes about wilderness adventures gone awry.

Go team?

Jenn@twitter

...just stick with Silver Falls next time. :P

(Seriously, though, Starvation Ridge is one of the most difficult hikes in this state.)

7 vidas

It is great that all involved made it through the incident safely. Safety first people! Remember the ten essentials when you're heading out into back country. I have to agree that Angel's Rest sounds like a better match.

414k!

Great Story Arianna!

orangeyouglad

Well THIS resonated with me. I almost died at the top of Mount Monadnock in NH because I was wearing 5 year old sneakers with no grip on a slick rock face in a rainstorm.

But while I didn't think to wear proper shoes, I DID pack a turkey sandwich. I am so the "Emily" in my story.

tootsky

If this prompts even one prospective hiker to say, "wait - shouldn't we bring the map?" and/or "is your phone charged?" before they leave, she may save a life. The More You Know, or whatever.

onthesideofmyface

As a New Zealander brought up on a steady pre-school-camp diet of THIS IS HOW NATURE WILL KILL YOU, I read this whole article with my mouth ajar, occasionally wincing in horror.

Trotter Roller@twitter

Oh, you guys. Well, I'm really happy that everyone involved in this story is still living, but shame on your instructor from "Lower Body & Abs" for not 1. discouraging you from such a difficult hike and 2. not giving you a non-negotiable packing list for the trip. Like @tootsky, I hope that this prompts prospective hikers to prepare properly for their adventures and pack accordingly. At the very minimum, for a hike this difficult and in the pacific northwest, you should have had the following:
- a flashlight
- rain gear
- food to last for at least 1 day
- water to last for 1 day or water purification tablets
- several extra layers (including pants or long underwear for the legs)
- a solar phone charger (they are so handy!)
- THE MAP AND SEVERAL OTHER MAPS IN CASE THE FIRST MAP GOES AWAY (what were you thinking!!! I'm sorry I don't mean to yell I'm happy everyone is ok...)
- heavy duty hiking boots
- a change of socks
- some tp
- a sturdy knife with a blade that is as long as that particular state will legally allow

As a rule of thumb, I always pack with the anticipation that I will have to survive out in the open, that way when something happens (and it always does), I am prepared. This is what I have learned from 10 years in the girl scouts and 15 years as a geologist.

BE SAFE, LADIES! The outdoors are wonderful but they also are dangerous!

Trotter Roller@twitter

I forgot! Also a first aid kid! With blister care added to it! This is super important!!!

Jeff Hansen@facebook

great story! It was cool watching your adventure unfold .

Richard1717

Nice story! Luckily you didn't have to fend off any bears with that pocket knife! Richard published a recent article about the best pocket knives if you need help choosing one that will fend off a bear! (just kidding, don't rely on a pocket knife to fight a bear!)

Buck Knives

Yeah, you need to bring something more than just a pocket knife on a trip like that! Haha. We moved recently from Oregon and love the countryside. This brought back many memories.

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