Serving as a trail angel is about helping hikers in need, says Bend’s Brian Douglass.
And this summer, Douglass and the rest of his crew who make up the Central Oregon Pacific Crest Trail Angel Program could be tending to the needs of a lot more hikers than usual as permits for the PCT — the 2,650-mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington — have skyrocketed in the wake of “Wild,” the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed which this past winter was turned into a film starring Reese Witherspoon.
In 2013, 1,879 PCT permits were issued to long-distance hikers —those planning on traveling more than 500 miles — and in 2014 that number jumped to 2,655. While numbers for this spring are not out yet, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced in February a new permitting system that limited the number of long-distance hikers leaving from the start of the trail at Campo, California, to 50 a day. More than 15,000 people visited the PCTA website’s long-distance hiking page in December, the same time the movie “Wild” was released, an increase of 340 percent from 2013.
“My understanding from watching the numbers out of Campo on the southern end (of the trail) is that there’s a very significant number increase over the previous years,” said Douglass, who notes he doesn’t expect quite the same surge of hikers on the Oregon portion of the trail.
“Because of where we’re located in Central Oregon — we’re basically in the middle of the 2,650 miles — whether you come from the north or the south, if you get to us you’re a pretty serious player and know what you’re doing,” he added. “We’ll have to wait until the season is over, but of all those leaving from Campo, we’ll see how many actually get here.”
The team leader for the Central Oregon trail-assistance group, Douglass or one of his other “angels” typically picks up weary PCT hikers at Elk Lake Resort, the top of the McKenzie Pass, or on the Santiam Pass on U.S. Highway 20 and takes them into Bend or Sisters. Different hikers have different needs, he says.
“Some need to go to REI, some need medical attention,” said Douglass, who worked with longtime Central Oregon trail angel Lloyd “Gusto” Gust who died last October at the age of 86.
“Some want to go the brewpubs,” Douglass chuckled. “And some just want a nice comfy bed to sleep in. . Whatever they need, we get them into town so they can do whatever it is they need to do and then they can return to the trail.”
“Wild” effect or not, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and its Search and Rescue team always gear up for the summer, says Sgt. Nathan Garibay, the sheriff’s emergency services manager.
“Every year, we’re one of the biggest search and rescue units in the state due to the degree of recreation in our county boundary and within the Deschutes National Forest,” Garibay said. “We’re pretty well ramped up every year with all the activity we see.
“I don’t know what kind of impact the ‘Wild’ effect will have on us,” Garibay added. “But anytime there’s a spur in activity you tend to see an increase in search and rescue missions.”
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