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Corbett fire chief describes harrowing rescue of woman clinging to Multnomah Falls cliff

Corbett Fire Department photo

Corbett Fire Chief Rick Wuncsch recalled the harrowing rescue of a hiker who slipped on a Multnomah Falls trail and was left hanging onto a tree root overlooking a cliff Monday.

The woman, who has not been publicly identified, was uninjured, Wunsch said Tuesday.

Corbett firefighters received a report around 2 p.m. of a person needing to be rescued. Wunsch said he was the first responder to arrive at Multnomah Falls Lodge, and a bystander quickly pointed out the fallen hiker.

“I looked up and there she was, basically hanging on the side of a cliff of probably 300 foot or so,” he said.

The woman had been walking along the trail when she slipped and fell over the edge. She slid about 30 feet down before grabbing onto a tree root growing out of the hillside, Wunsch said.

Bystanders tied a loop in a small cord and lowered it down to the hiker, who secured it across her chest. The cord held her in place until firefighters arrived to rescue her, Wunsch said.

Firefighters set up a rope rescue system in which they lowered a firefighter over the edge to cinch a harness around the woman’s waist. Once the harness was secured, firefighters on the trail lifted both the rescuer and the hiker to safety, Wunsch said.

The rescue took about 20 minutes. The hiker was evaluated by medics at the top of the trail before being walked down to an ambulance, he said.

Wunsch said Corbett firefighters train regularly for rope rescues because of their proximity to the Columbia River Gorge, which they call “Portland’s backyard.” But rescues like the one that happened Monday don’t happen often, he said.

“One with someone hanging off a 300-foot cliff is thankfully very rare for us,” he said.

Snow and ice have made high-traffic hiking areas like the Multnomah Falls trail especially treacherous, Wunsch said. He recommended people wear spiked boot chains over their shoes to improve traction.

“The amount of tourists going up and down the trail with nothing more than street shoes on a snow-covered, ice-packed, steep trail,” he said. “People were slipping and holding onto the railing and that’s what happened to her – she slipped right off.”