Emergency Dial 911
Non-emergency (541) 693-6911
South Sister Hiker Search
BY: Deputy Jim Whitcomb
Assistant SAR Coordinator
Hikers: Wise, Jesse and Amanda
On 05/24/2015, at about 1718 hours, The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a report of a family that was hiking down South Sister and they could no longer see the trail. The reporting person, Wise, and father of 5 children, ages 6-15, who were hiking with his wife had called to report they had come up against a literal rock wall and the clouds had lowered so they could no longer tell which way to go.
Wise advised they were dressed for the weather, had food and water and the means to start a fire. Wise informed dispatch they would travel a little further to the south east to a group of trees where he would start a fire.
Attempts to contact Wise by phone were not successful after he had called dispatch. Attempts to text Wise were not successful either. Dispatch was able to provide fairly accurate GPS coordinates of where Wise had called from which showed that Wise and his family had gotten off the trail to west of the climbers trail by about .7 of a mile at an elevation of about 6500 feet. Accidently leaving the trail to the west in this area has proven to be a common cause of hikers becoming lost during this time of the year when the snow is still covering the trail especially with limited visibility.
One USFS LEO responded to the Devil’s Lake TH and quickly hiked the climber’s trail to the last known coordinates in the attempt to locate the family before dark. 5 Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue members were deployed to the same trail to assist the LEO in locating and assisting the family down the mountain.
The LEO was not able to locate anyone at the last known coordinates, but did locate tracks that appeared to be the family’s heading south still off of the trail. It was soon reported the tracks began to lead towards the west, which raised the level of concern that the family would be pulled further to the west making the descent more difficult and more time consuming. At this time more SAR resources were beginning to be deployed to assist in the search.
At about 2052 hours, Wise called dispatch to report the family had made it back to the Devil’s Lake TH and they were all OK, but wet. It was learned that Wise’s phone had died soon after calling dispatch. Wise was able to build a fire, but the weather cleared up soon after and he was able to see tracks leading in what Wise believed was the right direction. Wise advised he had not brought with him a map, GPS or compass or a means of charging his cell phone. Wise and his family turned around about a 1000 feet below the summit on this trip.
The LEO ended up following the tracks left by the family on their descent which revealed that the family ended up coming down the mountain counter clockwise on the Moraine Lake Trail instead of on the Climber’s trail. The SAR team and LEO made it back to the TH at about 2130 and 2145 hours respectfully.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind those who recreate in the back county to always be prepared for their plans to change at a moments notice. Always having the 10 essentials with you will help ensure a successful back country experience. See http://www.deschutessearchandrescue.org for further information on the 10 essentials.