Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tamolitch Blue Pool (club hike)

As a self-appointed Ambassador of Hiking, I believe that everybody should go hiking. But then there are places like Tamolitch Blue Pool, and I realize that no, not everybody should go hiking. I hate to be snooty and look down my nose and distinguish between "real hikers" and "casuals" but lamentably, this hike demonstrated what can happen when "casuals" get out on the trail.

Thanks for the shade, vine maples!
Lane and I had hiked to Tamolitch Blue Pool over a month before, but that particular day was overcast and dreary. While the trail seemed busy, it just did not compare to the frenetic activity on the McKenzie River Trail on a gorgeous summer day.

10 adults, 5 children, and 1 dog

I was leading a hike for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club and 10 adults, 5 children, and 1 dog set out onto the McKenzie River Trail near Carmen Reservoir. This was a shuttle hike, meaning we left vehicles at both ends of the trail, and would walk this section of the McKenzie River Trail end-to-end. At the Trail Bridge Reservoir Trailhead, we noticed Search and Rescue crews assembling there, the chatter among them was that someone had gotten hurt on the trail.

Carmen Reservoir
However, at Carmen Reservoir, we were unaware of any trailside drama and we enjoyed some lusciously shaded forest as the trail crossed and recrossed the McKenzie River several times. The river was dry for three miles because when the Carmen Reservoir dam was constructed in 1963, the subsequent diversion of water left the McKenzie River dry. Unbeknown to the engineers, a significant portion of the river flow ran underground right where they built the dam. "Oops!" some hydrologic engineer probably said at the time. At any rate, while we walked along the river channel, there was nary a drop of water to be seen. But not to worry, the underground river eventually reappears at Tamolitch Blue Pool.

Just a gorgeous day
The McKenzie River Trail is a mountain bike mecca and we got used to stepping aside for the cyclists. The path wended its way through the lush forest and this was for all intents and purposes, a "real" hike. That all changed when we reached the Blue Pool after 3.5 miles of hiking.

Tamolitch Blue Pool

The McKenzie River emerges from its underground journey at Tamolitch Blue Pool. Filtered by miles of volcanic soil, the water is sparkling clear and imbued with the most amazing sapphire blue color. It is a stunning scene but alas, the Blue Pool is being loved to death. The Pool is ringed on all sides by tall cliffs and maybe one-hundred-plus people were perched on the cliffs. A palpable pall hung over the scene as a rescue was taking place as we watched.

There was a pall when we arrived
Seems a young lady had tumbled 80 feet down a cliff and naturally, was seriously injured. The extraction of a hiker is quite a painstaking and elaborate process, plus it is a very slow process. To wit, the fall occurred sometime in the early morning. There is no cell phone coverage so other hikers had to hike the 2-plus miles back to the trailhead, taking close to an hour. But wait, there is no cell phone coverage at the trailhead either, so they had to drive down to Belknap Springs before they could reach 911. After the call went through, there was staging time involved, plus the rescue crews came from Corvallis and Sweethome, each over an hour's drive away. Then the rescue crews had to hike 2-plus miles reach to the injured party. So, help did not arrive until many hours after the initial incident, which is typical for these types of incidents. After retrieving our shuttle vehicles when the hike was over, we departed from the trailhead around 4:30 PM; the fall probably took place close to 9 o'clock in morning. The stretcher party had not yet made it back to the trailhead by the time we left: 8 or 9 hours is a very long time to be injured without significant medical care.

Oblivious to the danger, teenagers jumped off cliffs
Because of the cliffs, the extraction was deemed to be a "mountain rescue" which meant they had to use ropes to rappel down to the injured woman and then painstakingly stretcher her up inch-by-inch up the rough and rocky slope. Once they got her up on top of the cliffs, there was more time spent in first-aid triage. The young woman was immobilized on a backboard and then gingerly toted down the trail on a one-wheeled stretcher, she obviously was in pain and was the perfect picture of misery as she held her face in her hands. Out of respect, I didn't take any photos of the rescue. Out of disrespect, teenagers jumped off the cliffs and into the pool as the rescue was being performed about 50 yards away.

The McKenzie River Trail

On the trail, a phalanx of trail crews removed rocks, roots, and branches ahead of the stretcher party. A crew captain walked in front, loudly calling out obstacles to the crew carrying the injured woman. Ahead of all this, a sheriff's deputy warned hikers off the trail. Their pace was quite slow, as they didn't want to cause any other injuries by tripping or falling. The deputy had us bushwhack around them because we could actually bushwhack faster than they could walk.

Vine maples
The Trail Bridge Reservoir Trailhead is just two miles away from the Blue Pool and on a summer day, it really makes the Blue Pool way too accessible. Coming up the trail were hundreds of "casuals" hiking in flip-flops and bikini bottoms. Many were trundling wagons containing food, beer, and diapers. And all that leads me to my conclusion that some people simply shouldn't be out on the trail.

Dense vegetation next to the trail
So yeah, I do preach the Gospel of the Holy Vibrum-Soled Hiking Boot. And yes, I do believe the world would be a better place if everybody hiked. But I need to amend that position a little bit. The world would be a better place if everybody hiked....safely. There is danger inherent in hiking and always, that danger must be respected. Toddlers playing at the cliff's edge, people hiking in flip-flops or bikini bottoms, teenagers jumping off cliffs, or would-be explorers going off-trail on a cliffy slope demonstrate an incredible level of disrespect and/or ignorance. The trail doesn't care, it just randomly and dispassionately exacts its price from its victims.

Crossing the McKenzie River on a log bridge
The young lady who was injured, fortunately, was not seriously hurt and is expected to make a full recovery. However, her rescue was the third rescue that week. Three days prior to our hike, another young lady had slipped as she jumped off the cliff and landed on the rocks below, shattering her hip. Every summer, it seems there are several fatalities at the Blue Pool, all of which, in hindsight, could have easily been avoided by respecting the danger at the outset.

Wintergreen, going to seed
I'm sorry this blog post is not really about hiking, but to be honest, the whole experience soured me on the Blue Pool, it's too much of a zoo. I may come back in winter on snowshoes but not again on a nice summer day.

A duck floats in the Blue Pool
Sick at heart over the injured woman, I took no more photos after our arrival at the Blue Pool but did upload the few I took into a Flickr album.


  1. Yup, wild thrill seekers and those who don't pay attention seem to abound on trails lately. The pool looks awesome! Waiting for some of our smoke to clear so we can get back to hiking - very limited as of late!

  2. So awful to come upon the scene of a rescue. Glad the young lady will recover but how awful that it had to happen in the first place. Yes, I agree, in my opinion some folks need to learn proper respect for the wilderness before they are allowed on the trails. Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail in the Gorge earlier this year I saw all kinds of disrespectful hikers (cutting switchbacks, leaving tp, smoking!!, and hiking with music blaring.) Sadly, some of Oregon's most beautiful places are being loved to death by uncaring people.