Our Northwest

Adventurers display dubious judgment

Tuesday, May 31, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

Hikers rescued from Crater LakeNews of two Seattle men being airlifted out of Crater Lake's caldera Monday, then being cited for entering the restricted area, brings to mind similar incidents fueled by bad judgment.

The two 30-year-olds intentionally scrambled down Crater Lake's steep 1,100-foot-high caldera walls, and one man fell the final 250 feet to the lake. A rescue helicopter plucked them out and delivered them to a medical transporter.

Though this prompts refrains of "What were they thinking?!" such episodes are not so rare.

People have plunged into Mount St. Helens' gaping crater, including a snowmobiler who survived the 1,400-foot fall with minor injuries.

Stories abound of Northwest skiers venturing off groomed runs into backcountry danger, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Hikers occasionally get trapped on cliffs when they can't backtrack across narrow ledges, like the inexperienced Minnesota man at Spider Gap in the Cascades.

I did something just as dumb the first time I ever backpacked, at age 16.

Melakwa LakeSix buddies and I hiked one August up Denny Creek to Melakwa Lake, a popular alpine gem near Snoqualmie Pass. We had a great time despite making rookie blunders. Imagine: packing a cast-iron skillet. Laying our Dacron sleeping bags on bare dirt with no foam pads or air mattresses. Thinking we'd be content for three days eating only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

One morning three of the guys tried to cobble together a raft made of blow-down, intent on crossing the lake. I spotted them on the opposite shore and decided to take a shortcut to join them. Cliffs abut the east shore of the lake, plunging deep into the water, but I thought I spotted a route.

I followed a granite outcrop for perhaps 100 feet, but it narrowed to a ledge that soon dwindled to nothing. I stood there, about 30 feet above the lake, and realized I was stuck. What folly.

Did I mention I hadn't learned to swim? And that I was wearing cowboy boots? At that age I naively thought their height offered ankle protection. In fact, cowboy boots are likely the worst possible choice for hiking.

Long story short, I eventually retreated, inch by harrowing inch, to solid footing. My friends found my plight amusing, both my choice of footwear and the fact that I couldn't swim at age 16.

 Incidentally, their raft sank about 10 feet from shore. That too was amusing.

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