YAKIMA, Wash. -- Search and rescue teams safely escorted a group of hikers who got lost near Mount Aix on Saturday afternoon down from the mountains Sunday evening, Sgt. George Town of the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office said.
All eight hikers were in good shape, despite the unexpected night spent outside, and they emerged from the forest with the rescue teams about 6 p.m. Sunday, Town said.
Rescue teams found the group about 3 p.m. Sunday, after searching until after midnight Saturday and since 9 a.m. Sunday.
The group, whose ages ranged from the 20s to a 10-year-old, had gone on what was meant to be a half-day hike, but a concerned parent called authorities at 7 p.m. Saturday when they had not returned.
Town, who coordinates the sheriff’s office search and rescue unit, said weather did not appear to have been a factor, and that the group had just gotten off the trail.
No one in the group had brought a map or a compass, and phones don’t have reliable service in the mountains and lose battery quickly, Town said.
“They had their day packs, which was good; they did some things right in this,” he said. “They were just going for a little half-day hike. Of course, you get off the trail, get disoriented, and it’s more than a day hike.”
Additional information Sunday told crews that the group had been heading to Meeks Table. With poor cell reception, the team was only able to make brief contact, but when they did, they arranged an old-school method of finding the group: smoke signals.
“The search team was at 6,000 feet, they looked across the canyon, went ‘Aha!’” when they saw the smoke, he said.
Another thing the group did right was to build their campfire Saturday night and stay by it, he said. The rescue crews were careful to douse the fire before moving on to protect the area, he said.
The hikers were found about a mile away from the Mount Aix trail, near the Dog Creek drainage north of U.S. 12. Rescue crews first had to bushwhack their way to them and then figure out how to get everyone down the mountain in a timely fashion.
“Our mountain rescue crews are used to and equipped for traveling in this country; these folks generally are not,” he said. “When we take people out, we’ve got to look at taking other avenues to accommodate these folks and try to make it the best way possible.”
After finding them at 3 p.m., crews had the group back to the trailhead and reunited with friends and family by 6 p.m.
To all hikers planning trips, Town emphasized the importance of bringing the “13 essentials” for going in the backcountry, especially a compass and a map.
“You end up off the trail, and have no navigation tools, you have no reference. If you go down in a canyon, you can’t see anything, you don’t know which way to go. But if you have a compass and a map, you do,” he said.
“A compass never runs out.”