Barefoot in a Wet T-Shirt and Shorts: Inside the Munra Point Rescue

Webp.net-resizeimage (22)

Volunteers from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team and the Hood River Crag Rats scrambled up to Munra Point Monday, May 2, 2022, to save a lost hiker. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue photo by Aine Gillen.

When the 51-year-old hiker woke up the morning of Monday, May 2, he was lost on a scramble trail to Oregon’s Munra Point, more than 1,000 feet above the Columbia River Gorge, barefoot, wearing only a wet T-shirt and shorts, with a dead cell phone.

He’d built a rough shelter and sparked a fire to keep warm overnight. And it was the gray plume of smoke curling above the Douglas firs and disappearing into the fog draping the summit that triggered the unnamed man’s rescue.

Far below, a Bonneville Hatchery worker saw the smoke and called a fellow employee, Hugh Brown. Brown is one of the elite Hood River Crag Rats, a volunteer rescue organization that began saving people in 1926. Peeping through a scope, Brown realized the fire signaled a hiker in distress.

Munra Point

Oregon’s Munra Point rises above the Columbia River Gorge. Authorities believe a lost hiker rescued May 2, 2022, on the mountain had taken the Wahclella Falls Trailhead to the very rugged path that took him up the summit. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office photo.

Oregon’s Munra Point rises above the Columbia Gorge. Authorities believe a lost hiker rescued May 2, 2022, on the mountain had taken the Wahclella Falls Trailhead to the very rugged path that took him up the summit. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office photo.

So the workers rang the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team. They arrived, found the hiker with their binoculars, and decided to call in the Crag Rats, who had a rope rescue crew about 20 miles away. It was going to be a joint rescue pulled off by two nonprofit teams.

“We are trained in high-angle rescue, like cliffs, and we’re trained in avalanche rescue, crevasse rescue. We have a few members that are approved for swift-water rescue, but most of what we do is mountainous terrain,” Crag Rats volunteer Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg told Coffee or Die Magazine.

Munra Point

Multnomah County Search and Rescue members and the Hood River Crag Rats gear up May 2, 2022, to reach a hiker stranded on Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office photo.

Multnomah County Search and Rescue members and the Hood River Crag Rats gear up May 2, 2022, to reach a hiker stranded on Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office photo.

Van Tilburg is a full-time staff physician at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital who also serves as the medical director for four search and rescue teams, when he’s not scrabbling up mountains to save barefoot hikers.

When Van Tilburg and the other Crag Rats got there, the hiker was waving his arms from the side of the cliff. They began up the mountain with the squad from the sheriff’s office about 1 p.m., with Van Tilburg carrying size-11 boots the volunteers had bought from fish hatchery workers.

“It’s the first time I’ve actually ever been on a mountain rescue mission where I’ve been asked to bring rubber boots on the trail,” said Van Tilburg, who’s been a volunteer at the rescue nonprofit for 22 years. “I’ve been asked to bring a lot of crazy stuff up the trail, but never rubber boots.”

The first team reached the hiker about three hours later. He seemed to be showing signs of hypothermia, so they swaddled him in a borrowed jacket.

Munra Point

Munra Point as seen in 2017 through the trees inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. US Forestry Service photo.

Munra Point as seen through the trees inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. US Forestry Service photo.

The Munra Point trail isn’t maintained. The rescuers were staring down at a 3-mile trek across jagged, wet rock, and the hiker had lost his sandals. So they fashioned footwear out of SAM splints, malleable foam and aluminum medical devices usually used to support injured limbs, and started their descent.

The idea was to meet Van Tilburg’s team with the boots, but both crews quickly realized the SAM sandals were better. They lasted all the way to Interstate 84, where an ambulance was waiting for him. Paramedics evaluated and released the hiker.

Just another day for the Crag Rats.

“We’re really happy people enjoy the outdoors; we want people to enjoy the outdoors,” said Van Tilburg. “It’s just, if people can do so safely, that helps … and with proper footwear.”

Read Next: Woman Rescued After Lowering Herself — Then Falling — Into Vault Toilet

Noelle is an award-winning journalist from Cincinnati, Ohio, who came to Coffee or Die Magazine following a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has strived to be a military journalist ever since her internships with the US Army Cadet Command in college. She worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military herself and served as a public affairs specialist attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. She deployed once to fill a role as a media analyst for the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Kuwait. She has a passion for sharing stories of heroes and people who are far more interesting than they think they are. She follows where the job takes her, but currently resides on the East Coast in Georgia.
More from Coffee or Die Magazine
A new Marine Corps physical training uniform will have shorter shorts than previous versions, but they won’t be as short as the long-banned, skin-tight, still-beloved “silkies.”
Not enough fuel, too many miles to go over open ocean, and the aircrew was flying into a spot they call the Black Hole.
During ferocious fighting in Anzio, Italy, Harold Nelson’s commander wrote to Nelson’s mother that he’d been put in for a Silver Star. Now 107, Nelson finally got it.
After a week of competition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, four squads will travel to Washington, DC, for the last event of the Army-wide Best Squad competition — an interview panel with Pentagon leaders, including the sergeant major of the Army.
After more than seven months of full-scale warfare, Russian gas still flows through Ukraine to Europe each day.
A fleet of US Coast Guard and Army National Guard helicopters has descended on hurricane-ravaged Sanibel Island.
About one in five C-130s in the Air Force is out of service as older C-130Hs, which were first introduced in the 1970s, are grounded to have their propellers inspected.
The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford will spend at least one more day in Virginia.
Ford’s technological glitches included propulsion problems, hinky elevators, and gremlins in the catapults.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now” is one of the most recognizable war movies ever made, yet few fans are familiar with the insane story behind its production.