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

May 5, 2022Noelle Wiehe

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.

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.

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.

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 Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
father's day
Father’s Day Gift Guide: Don’t Disappoint Your Dad … Again

It’s less than two weeks until Father’s Day, and last-minute gifts for Dad are harder to come by tha...

space force
Air Force Picks Colorado For More Space Force Missions

The Air Force announced the permanent location for many more U.S. Space Force units Wednesday — and ...

Curtis LeMay
Curtis LeMay: The World War II General Who Firebombed Japan

Who exactly was Gen. Curtis LeMay? And how did he become the commander who razed more than 60 Japanese cities during World War II?

eric smith marine corps commandant nominee
Highly Decorated Marine Officer Nominated To Be Next Commandant

President Joe Biden has nominated a highly decorated Marine officer who has been involved in the transformation of the force to be the next Marine Corps commandant.

USS Arizona
Profile of a Ship: USS Arizona

When the USS Arizona sank, it took 1,177 crew members with it. Today it remains beneath the water as a memorial to all those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.

b1 bombers bosnia
US Bombers Fly Over Bosnia in Sign of Support Amid Continued Secessionist Threats

A pair of U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew low over Sarajevo and several other Bosnian cities...

SR-71 Blackbird
SR-71 Blackbird: The Spy Plane That Could Outrun Missiles

Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird was a government secret for years. Now retired, a newer version plans to take its place.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved