Trail magic, in reverse

By Barry Stuart Keller, Mount Hood Volunteer Wilderness Stewards

I have been a volunteer wilderness ranger in the Mount Hood Wilderness, 62 miles east of Portland, Oregon, for 19 years. I educate day hikers and campers on the trail in the Wilderness about Leave No Trace along the Pacific Crest Trail. Every year I look forward to meeting hundreds of PCT thru-hikers and hearing their stories.

Aug. 8, 2018 was the hottest day of the year on Mount Hood so far. It was 84 degrees and dead calm at 6,000-feet elevation, with forest fire smoke hanging in the air. These are exceedingly unusual and dangerous conditions.

Hiking out at the end of the day, at the wilderness boundary, I met Sarah, trail name “Tunes” and Yin, trail name “Gourmet” from Hong Kong, who was traveling with her. While we talked, a woman planning to hike in and camp for the night, approached. Within 10 feet of us, she stepped on a rock and fell awkwardly, breaking her left ankle.

Without hesitation, Tunes went into action. Dropping her pack, she ran the 1.5 miles round trip to Timberline Lodge to get ice. Running at either 84 degrees or 6,000 feet elevation, or uphill, or in unhealthy forest fire smoke-filled air, after already carrying a pack for many miles would be difficult enough, but it was all five conditions, and she did it for a complete stranger.


By the time she returned, I had arranged the evacuation of the woman and it was time to wait for the Reach and Treat (RAT) Team to hike in. Tunes positioned herself at the patient’s head and engaged her in conversation to take her mind off the pain, while Gourmet held the ice to the injury. The Volunteer Wilderness Ranger (me) had nothing left to do but to hold Gourmet’s hiking umbrella to shade the woman and Tunes.

Hiking the PCT is an arduous, complicated, logistical juggling act. Despite having many miles left to travel that afternoon, Tunes stuck with the injured woman. I gave her several opportunities to head out, but she wouldn’t have any of it. She stayed until the RAT Team arrived, sacrificing valuable daylight for hiking. Her story is now part of the Mount Hood Volunteer Wilderness Stewards’ legends.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of trail magic, where people along the PCT do little or big things to help the thru-hikers along their way. I labeled what Tunes did reverse trail magic, i.e., thru-hikers going out of their way to help someone else.

Tunes recognized that between my being on scene, having a U.S. Forest Service radio and within cell phone range, the woman could get care and be evacuated. She could have hiked on and kept to her schedule. But she did not. Despite her mileage goals and being hot and tired, she got involved, and I was happy to have her assistance.

That is the character of an extraordinary person.