PORTLAND, Ore. — Searchers say a Texas firefighter who went missing after splitting off from his friends during a hike in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland has been found and is doing fine.
Capt. Steve Alexander of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office identified the hiker as 26-year-old Devin Paez, an Austin firefighter who had been hiking at the popular tourist destination with three friends Thursday, two of whom were fellow Austin firefighters.
He was located on a trail below Triple Falls by a hiker who recognized him from photos he saw on media reports, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Officials say a thankful Paez was transported to a command post where he was medically evaluated and reunited with his friends. Aside from dehydration and some scratches, Paez was OK and refused further medical treatment, authorities said.
Alexander said Paez had been “struggling a little bit” when the hikers reached Sherrard Point on Thursday. He decided to leave his backpack behind, perhaps to reduce weight, and go ahead of the group late Thursday afternoon.
A friend tried to catch up with Paez, but couldn’t find him. The group waited at the Wahkeena Falls trailhead and called police when Paez didn’t show after nightfall.
Rescue teams searched roughly 20 miles of trails overnight, but they didn’t have a great location on him in an area with many trail systems.
Paez told authorities Friday he got lost when he took a wrong turn following what he thought was a trail and then stumbled down a steep embankment. He couldn’t get back so he stayed where he was until morning when he made his way back up, drank water from a creek and continued following trails. That’s when a hiker saw him and contacted authorities.
Meanwhile, a different hiker died Friday morning after falling from a trail a few miles west of Wahkeena Falls. The man in this 30s was hiking with another person at Angel’s Rest when he fell from a 40-foot cliff near a small waterfall. He was already dead when a rope-rescue team reached him.
Alexander said the death appears to be accidental, but the detectives and a medical examiner will investigate. He said he didn’t know if anyone else witnessed the fall.
“I’m sure there were other people on the trail, but I just don’t know how many people were around,” Alexander said.
Thousands of people hike at the Gorge each year, and it’s not that unusual for someone to get lost. Two other hikers, both from out of town, called the sheriff’s office Friday to report that they were lost, and rocks were sliding out from under them as they tried to move. A deputy instructed the pair to stay put and wait for rescuers.
It’s important to research your route before going on a hike, Alexander said.
“The trails themselves, some are well-maintained and others are side ones that are either no longer maintained or have been closed,” Alexander said. “You can get easily turned around.”
Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub