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Less Traveled Roads In the Mountains Christopher Van Tilburg Portland, 2006 Notes and photographs from Christopher Van Tilburg ’88, a doctor in Hood River. Christopher is the editor of Wilderness Medicine magazine and the author of several books. Info: www.docwild.net. Hood River, April. County Sheriff Office text message: “High Angle Rescue. White Salmon River.” An hour later I’m dangling on the end of a 50-meter rope. A woman is precariously perched on an unstable log jam deep in the slot canyon. Instead of my usual doctor’s scrubs, I wear heavy canvas “poison oak” pants, a life vest, a rescue backpack, a helmet, a climbing harness, and heavy leather gloves. Overhead thwock, thwock, thwock: a Blackhawk helicopter zooming up the canyon. It’s Army MAST, Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic, from Yakima. The woman shivers uncontrollably, blood spattered all over her clothing. I stabilize her injuries and balance tenuously on the logs to keep from falling into the icy water. The hovering Blackhawk drops a cable. Daylight is waning. We get her to the hospital. Cloud Cap, June. Rescue mission on my birthday. Up Cloud Cap Road in the Mount Hood National Forest. At mile four, a black bear sprints across. We go through dirty snowbanks nestled in the switchbacks, then up Cooper Spur Trail into the Mount Hood Wilderness. An hour later we find the missing climber. Gifford Pinchot National Forest, July. Missing woman, day five. We tromp amid huckleberry fields and fir groves. Strapped to my chest: SAR radio, Global Positioning System, cell phone, camera. We never do find her. Cloud Cap, August. I run west on Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the entire volcano. I pass massive basalt boulders and wiry green-gray alpine fir. I surf the scree and sand of the east lateral moraine of Eliot Glacier, cross a rickety bridge over a muddy torrent, then climb back out. I pass one drainage, another, three more. Finally I find the woman with a knee injury. Four friends hike in with the stretcher. We make it back before daylight ends – barely. Cloud Cap, October. On this clear cold morning, we stock Cloud Cap Inn with firewood. Built in 1889 as a high alpine B&B, it was almost razed by the Forest Service in 1954. The oldest mountain rescue group in the nation, Hood River Crag Rats, requested to maintain the cabin. Since then, we’ve used it as our base for trainings and rescues. This marks the time to change my pack from summer to winter gear: the latter, much bulkier, includes avalanche rescue equipment and skis. No rescues in a while, getting antsy. Alpine Trail, January. Lost snowboarder. Snow. Twenty minutes after we start searching the call comes in: he’s found. I examine him in the snow patrol room at Timberline Lodge. His face is ashen and pale and he shivers uncontrollably. Hypothermia, dehydration, embarrassment. Viento Ridge, February. A missing Cirrus SR44 airplane has been spotted from the air at dusk. Now we tromp through the woods at dark using global positioning to locate the crash site. Giant downed fir and hemlock, huge basalt boulders, deep ravines. We go slowly: protection of rescuers is the first priority. We can’t afford even an ankle sprain. Eventually the sheriff flies his Piper Cub along the ridge to give us a reference. Next morning, we start coordinating the recovery of the bodies of three beloved and respected members of the community. Later that summer, after the media attention and funerals, we guide the families to the crash site to pray. It’s part of being a doctor. Westside Elementary, March. I haul my bulky pack in to Mrs. Stein’s first grade class along with splints, tape, and bandages. I bandage one kid like a mummy and the classroom explodes with laughter. Multnomah County Circuit Courtroom 729, May. As an expert witness, I strap on my snowboard in front of twelve jurors to demonstrate snowboard mechanics, injuries, and snow immersion. I remember the call out on that cold February night three years before. Today the stuffy courtroom is filled with exotic language: objections, redirects, liability, negligence. I’d rather be outside. Eagle Creek, April. First call of the half dozen or so we get every summer on one of the most popular hiking trails in the Gorge. Motionless patient on a ledge. On rope, I plow through thick understory. A vine maple branch pops me in the face. A Blackhawk from Salem’s National Guard 1042nd Medical Company swoops in, pummeling me with leaves and dirt. Patient barely breathing, thready pulse, head injury. In the emergency room I’d have nurses, respiratory therapists, and a trauma surgeon to help. Here there are volunteers in a complex rope rescue. Best crew you can imagine. We extricate the patient, wheel him down the trail, speed lights-and-sirens to the nearest landing zone, and transfer him to a Life Flight chopper. More than 30 people have helped. As the sun dips behind Table Mountain I head home. Eagle Creek, Fourth of July. Five injuries today, the worst a back fracture. Teenager. To reach him I hike three miles and swim across the Lower Punchbowl Falls plunge pool. The water is freezing. I place a cervical collar on him to stabilize his spine. Two hours later three friends swim over with a floating stretcher and we swim the patient across the pool and down the creek to a gravel bar. Chopper: the 1042nd again. They airlift the kid to OHSU. Two hours later I am watching fireworks with my wife and daughters. Fireworks explode overhead and my girls are giggling.
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