Close call on God’s Thumb

Cliff rescue near Lincoln City

LINCOLN CITY — A man who fell 100 feet down the face of a remote Cascade Head viewpoint was plucked from the cliff by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after ground rescuers were unable to reach the hiker on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

Officials say the latest incident at God’s Thumb underscores the hazards awaiting hikers who are ill-equipped and unprepared for the dangerous conditions at the unregulated site located one-half mile north of Lincoln City.

“Social media is really driving the popularity of this hike, but it’s even being advertised on the city’s website,” remarked Captain Jim Kusz of North Lincoln Fire & Rescue, who said hazardous rescue calls to the area have mounted in the wake of publicity about God’s Thumb.

The 59-year-old Corvallis resident apparently tried to make his way down to an isolated beach from the top of the rugged bluff, which stands about 450 feet over the ocean. He lost his footing and began to slide down a grassy slope but was able to stop his fall and make his way to a small overhang. He called for help on his cellphone at 1:30 p.m., reporting that he was uninjured.

“It was lucky he was able to grab something because it was 300 feet straight down after that,” said Lt. (JG) Jake Rettig, co-pilot of the Coast Guard MH-65 that spotted the hiker clinging to the outcropping.

An earlier attempt by a different helicopter to locate the hiker was spoiled by low clouds, which parted just long enough for Rettig’s crew to lower a rescue swimmer to the cliff and hook-up the imperiled man, whose name was not released. He was lifted aboard the helicopter at 6:22 p.m. and flown to Toledo because Newport Airport was socked in by fog.

A county rope-rescue team from Newport had assembled at God’s Thumb but was unable to see the hiker from the ledge, while winds and other conditions prevented ground rescuers from hearing the man’s cries for help. Flares were thrown down the side of the cliff so that the chopper crew could give directions from the flares to the victim in case the helicopter was unable to move in.

Kusz said about 20 firefighters, including the technical rope team, were on the scene. The number of rescues at God’s Thumb — four so far in 2018 — has already matched 2017 and is likely to grow as more people are drawn by the astonishing panoramas.

“People have got to remember these are still wildlands,” Kusz said, urging hikers to carry a fully charged cellphone, water and a whistle or reflective mirror as basic survival tools. “It happens to abut a populated area, but it’s really a wilderness.”

Kusz said local agencies are talking with the U.S. Forest Service to study ways to improve safety at the unregulated site. The trail, located at the end of Roads End, starts as a gravel road but quickly becomes steep and broken by landslides and mud. Gnarled roots offer plenty of chances to trip and wrench an ankle.

“It’s scary,” admitted Crystal Staats, who found the God’s Thumb trail on Facebook and set out with two girlfriends from Eugene on Wednesday to summit the unusual rock formation. “You climb and climb and suddenly come to a ledge, and it’s straight down. I still have butterflies.”


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