Acid Mountain Rescue Team

The day before Mother’s Day in 2016, I decided to go for a 16-mile overnight backpacking trip with my friends Chris and Alex (plus my dog, Remi) to celebrate the beginning of the season and to make sure all our gear was in order for future trips. We decided on a thru-hike from Cashmere to Wenatchee via the Devils Gulch trail. 

The first 10 miles of this trip were quite ordinary; crossing streams, dodging the occasional downed log, the usual grind. But then we came across a person. Normally, this isn’t odd; but considering the snowy trail and that we were 10 miles into our hike, and this guy was in street clothes with no gear, we thought it was a little strange. Nonetheless, we exchanged niceties before continuing on our way. Then things got a little stranger.

We found a knife, or rather a foot-long tactical survival blade, lying in the snow. Rather than try to sleep through the night knowing the weapon was out there, we took it with us and stowed it in my pack to hide it from view. I’ve listened to too many true-crime podcasts to let that one go. 

A little further down the trail, a large, purple, metallic-glazed bong was waiting for us, breaching out of the snow. Next, we found a polaroid camera, with blank polaroid sheets, scattered about. Up to this point, for all we knew, there were some aspiring photographers high on cannabis, missing their Excalibur, wandering around in the snow as a late-spring wintery storm loomed threateningly in the sky. In an interesting twist, a black Jansport school backpack was waiting around the next corner, empty except for a speaker that was cutting in and out of static. That’s when Alex turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “That’s some Blair Witch shit right there.” 

Then we came across person-number-two, seemingly talking loudly on a cell phone.  When he saw us, he immediately turned-tail and rapidly hiked away, in the direction we were hiking. His dog bounded behind him, looking concerned and whining. Then wouldn’t you know it, Hansel and Gretel LEFT. MORE. STUFF. A bunch of grapes. A small pocketknife. Some pot. And a cell phone, with a text from a person listed under contacts as “mom,” asking, “Are you alright?” As soon as I picked up the very-cold phone and read that startling text, the battery expired and the phone screen went dark. 

Around the next corner, we encountered a young man, possibly high school-aged, sitting in a stream of glacial-runoff, yelling nonsense, with his dog nervously pacing around him. My immediate reaction, ignited by self-preservation and experiences as a female solo hiker, and lack of experience with people on drugs, was to get the hell out of there and call for help from the safety of far away. But both Alex and Chris knew we needed to help, and calling 911 at the bottom of the road, 7 miles later, would be far too late for these young men. 

We hatched a plan based on our strengths and comfort levels:  the two guys would stay with the person in the stream, attempt to get him out and onto the trail, while Remi and I would hike out until we could reach cell signal and call 911.

Remi and Alix, who is sporting her Acid Mountain Rescue Team Shirt // Photo courtesy of Alix Whitener

I hiked out quickly, skirting around the snow and wondering when I’d run into person-number-three, a murder victim, or possibly another sword. I found cell service about half-a-mile away. I called 911, was put in touch with Search and Rescue (SAR), and was given a new plan: hike back and make sure the person we found didn’t have additional weapons, start hiking towards the trailhead to rendezvous with SAR, and on the way try to text a photo, name, and phone number of our rescuee to SAR, along with coordinates every half-hour as cell service allowed. Easy enough, right?

By the time I returned to my friends, they managed to get the guy onto the trail, but not without some consequences. In the process of extracting him from the stream, Alex was thanked with a punch to the face and a bite from a protective but very worried dog. Rescuing someone who wants to be rescued is one thing. But this guy seemed to be under the influence of something very mind-altering, which made rescuing him a very different experience. 

When I arrived, they were having difficulty aiming the guy in the right direction; he wanted to hike in the direction opposite of the SAR rendezvous and extraction point. He did, however, seem to want to follow me. With temperatures dropping and the stormy weather moving in, it became clear that the only way to get us all moving in the correct direction was for me to hike in front, while one of my friends hiked on the guys’ heels to keep him at a good distance, and the other carried both his own backpacking equipment and the Jansport backpack of contraband. 

I managed to snap a photo to send to our SAR friends, but I couldn’t get a comprehendible answer for a name and only managed to get one-two-three-four-five-six-seven for a phone number. Periodically, the guy would charge ahead and lunge at me, but Alex would grab him, assuaging the situation. One time, though, he wasn’t quick enough, and I was shoved to the ground before our rescuee slipped in the snow and laid face-down, arms by his sides, as if he were giving up. Hoisting him to his feet and encouraging him down the trail, we pressed on.

Two miles of trudging through the snow later, we arrived at the trailhead where officers were waiting for us. The guy we were helping was pretty placid by that point, and wet and hypothermic. The first guy we ran into hiked out 15 minutes later, admitting that both he and his friend were hiking and dropping acid. I was asked if I could get the guys’ dog into the back of one of the trucks. When I tried, the dog slipped its collar and tried to bite me. Remi, who is supposed to protect me or at least be concerned about my wellbeing, was too busy getting head scratches from one of the policemen to care.

The officers gave us a ride to our car at the bottom of the road. When they dropped us off, they said we were responsible for saving the guys’ lives. With the lack of equipment, food and water, and the freezing conditions expected that night, they likely would have died. This story had a happy ending compared to what could have happened.At the time of our adventure, which we fondly refer to as the Acid Mountain Rescue Team, Alex, Chris and I had only known each other for several months. We’ve been on several other (much less dramatic, but still adventurous and fun) backpacking trips in the central Cascades since then. Some things are still the same, like how Remi still carries the beer (that we never got to enjoy on this trip). We hope the young men involved in our story learned a lesson about the outdoors, and we hope we never come across a situation like this again. But if we do, we learned a thing or two about how to be an even more effective Acid Mountain Rescue Team in the future. 

Written by Alix Whitener

Read Tips for Placing Emergency Calls in the Backcountry

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