Oregon is known across the United States for its wealth of outdoor beauty.
The snow-capped volcanoes, crystal clear rivers and rugged coastline make the Beaver State a place where awe-struck travelers and longtime residents can’t help but dive head-first into our natural playground when the weather hits 80 to 90 degrees.
But along with that beauty, and the trove of opportunities to hike, fish and paddle, comes a risk that each summer reminds us how deadly our scenery can become.
Two young men died last week at popular swimming holes in Marion County. A third was rescued.
And this is not an uncommon occurrence. Having covered more tragic accidents related to outdoors recreation than I can count, every new incident reminds me of the risk that’s part and parcel of the Oregon experience.
Mount Hood shimmers like a bright white beacon above the Willamette Valley, a perfect ice cream cone in the sky that each year lures 8,000 to 10,000 people to reach for its 11,250-foot summit. Every year, one to three people die in the process.
The wild section of the Rogue River is among the United State’s greatest river trips, home to 34 miles of pristine canyon swelling with wildlife, waterfalls and whitewater that each summer averages more than 12,000 floats. Since 2007, seven people have died at the river’s most notorious rapid, Blossom Bar.
The same disquieting fact holds true of the popular swimming holes along the Little North Santiam River, where 14-year-old Salem resident Sean Kaleopa drowned while swimming Monday.
It was one of those awful moments, the loss of a kid with such a bright future. But it’s also not the first time the Little North has taken a life.
According to Statesman Journal records, seven people have drowned in the Little North since 1999, the majority at Three Pools, Salmon Falls and Little North Fork parks. (It was unclear in some cases exactly where the accident occurred on the Little North).
Beautiful as those emerald pools on the Little North might seem, the reality is that the water is cold and swift. Add to that the high number of visitors, the number who jump off the rocks and occasional alcohol consumption, and you have the chance for accidents.
Even so, one of the things that has always surprised me is that victims come from every walk of life. We’re not just talking about teenagers and 20-somethings acting “young and dumb.”
More frequently, it’s one misstep, and not an obvious one — a small mistake in the worst possible moment — that causes tragedy. And contrary to popular belief, many of the victims are experts in their field.
Almost exactly one year ago, Salem said goodbye to Kinley Adams, a local dentist who died in a climbing accident on Mount Hood. A more experienced and skilled climber would be difficult to find. He was a member of ski patrol, a climb leader and was in training for an expedition into the Himalayas.
In the end, that didn’t matter.
Just a few weeks ago, the body of well-known outdoor author Karen Sykes — who wrote the literal book on hiking the northwest — was found in the Owyhigh Lakes area near Mount Rainier. It’s believed she died of hypothermia.
“She was extremely experienced, but experience has nothing to do with any of it,” Kim Brown, who hiked with Sykes, told the Seattle Times. “The mountains are big. There’s a lot going on.”
Risk is part of experiencing Oregon’s great outdoors — and it applies to everyone.
Oregon is a beautiful place, full of almost unmatched possibilities for recreation. But it’s also important to remember that no skill level, amount of experience or strength puts you above nature.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for six years. Reach him at zurness@ StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801.
American Red Cross swimming safety tips
1) Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
2) Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
3) Never leave a young child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child; teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
4) Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
5) Maintain constant supervision.
6) Make sure everyone in your family learns to swim well.
7) If you have a pool, secure it with appropriate barriers. Many children who drown in home pools were out of sight for less than five minutes and in the care of one or both parents at the time.
8) Avoid distractions when supervising children around water.
9) If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
10) Have appropriate equipment, such as reaching or throwing equipment, a cell phone, life jackets and a first aid kit.
11) Enroll in Red Cross home pool safety, water safety, first aid and CPR/AED courses to learn how to prevent and respond to emergencies.
12) Drink plenty of water regularly, even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.
Knowing how to swim is the first line of defense in the water and making sure that your family and you know how to swim well can keep water tragedies from becoming a reality. However, it is important to understand that even the strongest swimmers can easily become tired in the water very quickly especially after drinking alcohol and eating heavy meals. Know what your own limitations are and listen to what your body is telling you; if you realize that you are becoming fatigued, get out of the water and take a rest.
Shared by the Silverton Fire District