More Hikers Lost due to "Optical Illusion" on Mt. McLoughlin

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Mon, October 28 2013 at 5:54 PM, Updated: Mon, October 28 2013 at 6:50 PM

It's happened yet again, hikers lost on Mount McLoughlin, and this time it contributed to a record weekend for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team.   

Officials said eight people took a wrong turn -- in the same place many others have gone astray. The number was updated from the original nine that was initially reported.

"We've never had three different groups lost at the same time."

The specific section near the summit has contributed to numerous people straying off and away from the trail. Officials said it's especially problematic as temperatures continue to fall.

Cheri Rumelhart remembers how close she was to getting lost on Mt. McLoughlin.

"It catches your attention, it looks like the path you're supposed to take and the group I was with said Cheri, you gotta come over this way, you're on the wrong path," recalled Rumelhart.

"I could have been out there wandering, or our family could have been out there wandering. We had our kids with us. Now to look back and hear about people who get lost on a regular basis, yeah that is kind of a scary thing," she continued.

Rumelhart is not the only one that's been fooled by the so-called "optical illusion."

According to Sergeant Shawn Richards with Jackson County Search and Rescue, near the summit there is a bowl of loose rock which looks like it's a shortcut that eventually will meet up with the trail.

However, in reality it leads you away from the trail.

Over the weekend eight hikers from three separate groups got lost, prompting more than 50 volunteers with search and rescue to go looking for the hikers.

"Basically they made that main mistake that everybody makes," said Sergeant Richards.

In previous years, as many as 30 people have lost their way because of the optical illusion.

"We've gotta go to the table and come up with some sort of solution because it is something that happens over and over again," said Richards.

At least for now, Richards says putting up signs near the summit isn't an option.

"It's a wilderness area that's the big issue. So the Forest Service's hands are tied."

However, in the end, search and rescue officials say something needs to change.

"Our concern is God forbid that we have all these people go missing, sooner or later the numbers are going to go against us and we're going to lose somebody. That's what our job is to avoid," said Richards.

It's a scary prospect, as winter moves in and temperatures continue to drop.

Meanwhile, Cheri Rumelhart is just glad she was with people who were familiar with the trail. Their knowledge spared her from a situation that could have gone very wrong, very fast.

NBC 5 News has spoken with a Fremont-Winema National Forest Service official in the past about this exact issue. She said there are plans in the works to put in natural ponderosa pine markers near the trail.

Search and Rescue officials say if you're headed out on a hike. Be prepared with warm clothes, food, water, a fully charged cell phone and/or a GPS device.

What do you think? Sound off on our Facebook page and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

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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