"Optical Illusion" Responsible for Confusing Lost Hikers

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Mon, July 15 2013 at 6:10 PM, Updated: Mon, July 15 2013 at 7:09 PM

On Monday, Jackson County Search and Rescue released the names of three hikers lost near Mt. McLoughlin have been released. They are, 43-year-old David Harp, his 15-year-old son Seth, 15 and 25-year-old Matthew Jackson. They lost their way on Saturday afternoon, and were found Sunday morning.

Over the last year, Jackson County Search and Rescue said they have responded to about 15 calls for help. Some years they have more and other years they have less. However, what they all seem to have in common? The majority of the confusion happens in the same area every year.

Allison Doke who works at Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford, considers herself outdoorsy. But when it came to climbing Mount McLoughlin...

"I veered off to the side [...] There's kind of a split area where it looks like there could potentially be going in a different direction because there aren't very many markers up there," said Doke.

Her story was similar to the three hikers who got lost.

"There's a scree or loose rock area that looks like if you just scurry down that, it'll just connect back up to where the trail is...in fact it send you the opposite direction of the trail," said Sgt. Shawn Richards with Jackson County Search and Rescue.

He said the section of trail near the top of the mountain is responsible for misleading the majority of hikers who get lost. In past years as many as 30-people on their way down have fallen victim to what deputies are calling an "optical illusion."

"The farther you go down the farther you go from the trail," said Sgt. Richards.

Because so many people seem to get lost in the same area, the Forest Service has put up a sign at the trailhead, trying to give people a heads up on the misleading route and to keep people on trail.

However, officials said adding signs near the top of the mountain to help guide hikers down is not an option.

"It is within the Sky Lakes Wilderness. It's supposed to be a challenging wilderness experience [...]the forest service itself does not mark the trail," said Margaret Bailey, Klamath District Ranger for the Fremont-Winema Forest Service.

While officials said they cannot add any signs on land designated as a wilderness area, they are planning to put in natural Ponderosa Pine markers near the trail.

For now, hikers unfamiliar with the Mt. McLoughlin should rely on maps, stay on trail, keep with their group and follow the ridgeline down. Outdoors experts also said it's important to pack extra layers, water, food, and an emergency kit in order to be prepared for any situation.

Sgt. Richards also said it's a good idea to bring along a cell phone, but use it minimally to conserve the battery. That way, if there's an emergency, there will be enough battery to make a call.

More information on the Mt. McLoughlin trail can be found at this website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou/recarea/?recid=69818

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About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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