The Pacific Northwest is full of natural wonders to explore, from majestic mountain peaks to mysterious canyons to wild rivers. The adventures to be had inspire folks to leave their desk and computer far behind to spend time on the trail, the slopes, and the rivers. While there is a vast amount of wilderness experience out there, and lots preparation put into planning for emergencies, few of us stop to think – who will come when the call for help needs to be made?
As we get further from busy roads and human activity to immerse ourselves in nature, the resources of populated places are left behind as well. Access becomes more difficult, and things like a sprained ankle – fixed with some rest and ice at home – can become a much larger issue when you’re a few hours from the trailhead or deep in a remote river canyon. Sheriff’s departments and Search and Rescue (SAR) units are tremendous resources, but some places are so wild or difficult to access, that it takes something different to reach someone in trouble. So when the call for help comes from the backcountry, who is it that is on their way?
Hood River based Crag Rats are the go-to folks for technical mountain rescue in our area. America’s oldest search and rescue organization, the Crag Rats originally formed out of a group of outdoor enthusiasts who spent their free time hiking, climbing, and skiing in the Mt. Hood area. In 1923, their aid was requested in the search for a lost boy in the Mt. Hood area. After another rescue aid in 1926, they were asked what their group was called in an interview. Not being officially organized as a group at that point, one of the members used a nickname that a wife had given them: The Crag Rats. These days, the Crag Rats are a member of the Mountain Rescue Association, and have formal agreements to assist rescue agencies in both Oregon and Southwest Washington.
This group of passionate mountaineers and skiers have racked up hundreds of rescues in the Mt. Hood area, averaging over 30 rescues annually in recent years. They gained a bit of recognition from a riveting Gorge Owned podcast, Hear in the Gorge: Crag Rats Mountain Search and Rescue this past year, but not nearly enough people know who they are or that it is their passion and knowledge for the area that is to thank when someone needs aid in the area’s backcountry. The calls for their volunteer groups to deploy can come any time of day, or more often at night. Using their own gear, training, and experience, they are the lights you want to see coming through the dark, and are the people helping you get back to the care you need in the most efficient way possible.
A bit closer to our life on the river, we see many people who have heard about the wonders of our local river runs, but have gotten in a bit over their heads when trips have gone awry. When someone needs a technical river rescue in Klickitat County (think White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers), the county search and rescue personnel call Wet Planet. The relationship between local search and rescue agencies and Wet Planet began over a decade ago when Wet Planet volunteered to help with a large rescue effort on the Klickitat River. As Wet Planet continued to assist in local river rescues, the relationship continued to grow. These days, Wet Planet is an integrated part of the area’s emergency response plan for river rescues.
With the wide range of experience that the Wet Planet professional river team has in rescue, emergency care, and river running, they are uniquely qualified to respond to river incidents. Wet Planet managing owner and river rescue instructor Todd Collins works closely with the Klickitat County emergency response teams to both train rescue personnel and to organize the Wet Planet guide team into a rescue team when needed. With the motto “It’s cool to be good”, the Wet Planet team spends a great deal of time both acquiring knowledge and medical/rescue training as individuals, as well as practicing as a group throughout the season in staged scenarios and informal rescue challenges. When they are not guiding rafts or kayaking the class V runs in our area, many members of the professional river team at Wet Planet also work in the medical industry and emergency response fields. Our river rescue instructors David Seal, Jonathan Blum, Jeff Clewell and Seamus McMorrow teach a variety of certifying professional river rescue courses at Wet Planet every year. If you end up needing help in one of our local river canyons, there is a good chance the Wet Planet team will be among the faces you are going to see.
If you find yourself out exploring every chance you get, and want to help others when their adventures don’t quite go as planned, consider getting involved in one of these local groups or make a donation to Crag Rats support their cause!
It’s cool to be good! And we feel there is no such thing as training too much for you and your buddies when preparing for your adventures and explorations – a mishap can happen at any time, even to the most skilled of us.
Think about taking a River Rescue Course or take our Guide School this spring. Learn about the rivers, basic river rescue and paddle raft guiding on the Hood River, White Salmon River, Klickitat River and Owyhee River with the experts at Wet Planet. Or take a local avalanche course, a Wilderness First Responder course, or find a course that is tailored to where you love to explore and play! It’s cool to be good. It’s true.