By Pat Neal
It was another tough week in the news. A woman fell off the Hurricane Ridge Road and had to be pulled a hundred feet up a cliff with ropes.
Another woman broke her leg at Lake Angeles and had to be flown out with a Coast Guard helicopter. A hiker was stranded by an incoming tide at Rialto Beach and had to be pulled off a rock.
A young man was missing up the Quinault River but walked out at the Skokomish River after a needle-in-a-haystack search was initiated and someone started a forest fire at Lake Crescent.
People go insane when they escape the city to enter the woods. I blame the media. We watch nature shows telling us animals are like people with commercials showing SUV’s plunging through streams, along deserted beaches and mountaintops like the world is our race track. That if we spend enough money and do crazy things someone will like us on social media.
I used to wonder why Park Rangers were so cranky. Then I took a couple of them fishing where they talked about dealing with the suicidal tourist invasion bent on causing harm to themselves or others. Like the guy who took off up the trail, ate some poison mushrooms and came back three days later with no clothes on until the rangers could talk him out of a tree.
There is a theory that the more advanced our electronic devices become the dumber people get. People like to take pictures of themselves with their phones. Selfies can be self-destructive behavior. Like the guy who fell off our own Sol Duc Falls. At least someone got a video of it.
This is not an isolated incident. People have plunged to their death taking selfies at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. There’s been an uptick in rattlesnake bites at the Grand Canyon National Park due to people taking selfies with rattlers. Others try to take selfies with bison at Yellowstone and Grizzlies at Glacier National Park, getting stomped and mauled in the process.
Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we have no rattlers or grizzlies but people injure themselves anyway. Others disappear without a trace for no apparent reason. Like the case of Jacob Gray. He disappeared on April 4, 2017. Leaving his bicycle dumped along the side of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, Gray vanished, causing a massive search effort that covered hundreds of square miles.
His father called me a week later to float the Sol Duc to look for his son. He believed Jacob was alive. I didn’t. Jacob Gray left most of his gear with his bike. It had been storming. He would have been lucky to survive overnight. The Sol Duc was too high to float but Jacob’s father swam 12 miles of the river looking for his son.
The recent book, “The Cold Vanish” by Jon Billman describes the heart-breaking search for Jacob Gray. He’s just one of several people who have vanished in our wilderness without a trace. This is not a uniquely Olympic Experience. There are an estimated 1,600 people currently missing our country’s wilderness areas including a park ranger who disappeared in Chiricahua National Monument.
They found Gray’s remains on August 10th, 2018 fifteen miles away at Hoh Lake. How he crossed the Sol Duc, Bogachiel and the many rain-swollen tributaries to get 5,000 feet up into avalanche country remains a mystery and a lesson to us all. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll get back. Take the ten survival gear essentials. Don’t make the rangers come looking for you.