Hike Distance: 10.0 miles Yearly Hike Distance: 1803.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1104 feet Yearly Elevation Gain: 233867 feet
We decided to try a new location and headed out to the Pioneer Bridle Trail, just off Hwy26 near Rhododendron, OR. It was a cold day but we were more than prepared. We pulled in to the parking area and another car pulled next to us. The driver of the other car got out and took a leak not 15 feet from us, with his back to us. This was to set the tone for the entire day, which wasn’t good.
We headed NE on the Pioneer Bridle Trail and really enjoyed the cool air and beautiful forest. No people on the trail, just like we like it. The trail was probably empty due to everyone heading up for snow activities at Mt. Hood? We crossed on a bridge over the ZigZag River and soon reached a point where we could go to the Camp Creek Campground.
We walked through the Camp Creek Campground and found the Still Creek Trail. Walking on a bridge over Still Creek we walked along the creek for a short way. The views of Still Creek are outstanding and gorgeous. I took many photos! We veered south on the trail and strolled through a dark mystical forest. It was amazing…until…we came upon a couple.
The trail was empty and we expected to see nobody. We came upon a couple that was evasive and very out of place. There was an electronic device strapped to a tree, just off trail, and the man was taking a close-up photo of it. I asked what the thing on the tree was and he acted like it didn’t exist, and said “What thing”. I pointed to the device and said that thing. He said, “Oh, that’s art”! What flooded through my mind was what the hell is this guy trying to put over on us. I said I was an electrical engineer and it looked like one of my projects. He said, “I sure hope not”.
We made a little bit more small talk and wished them a good day and started to walk away. He said that we’ll see you on the way back. Well, my wife and I were talking and I basically said that we won’t be seeing them on the way back. Being an electrical engineer I know what a device with lithium batteries, electrical charging/power circuit, wireless transmitter/receiver with the top cover off, looks like. This wasn’t art and they appear to be up to no good!
I knew another route out of this area that allowed us to avoid going back on this trail, but it would be much longer. We moved quickly to forest road FS2612. I was going to take a photo of their license plate, but the car wasn’t there, and was must have been parked away from the trailhead.
We turned right onto FS2612 and moved like our lives depended on it! Our fear was that they would figure out we weren’t coming back, and we were afraid of the possibilities. Our minds were imagining so many possible outcomes, and we were scared. There were some cars occasionally coming down the road, and they were carrying newly cut Christmas trees on their roofs. We were no longer sure if they were parked on this road.
We were moving so fast, and it was getting dark, but we couldn’t seem to get to the town of Rhododendron fast enough. Suddenly, along came a small BMW car, and they were inside! We waved and then took down the license plates! A sigh of relief came to both of us. 🙂 You see, the story they gave us was very suspicious, and they acted deceptively. That electronic device wasn’t art, and they could have said so many other things that could have been reasonable, but they didn’t. We actually thought that our lives could have been in danger while we saw them. They could have chosen millions of trees to place this device on (on the road or at their home or apartment or in the city …) , but they chose an obscure trail, in the middle of nowhere, that was likely to be devoid of people. They were obviously not prepared for meeting hikers, and had a ridiculous response!
Just before we got into the town of Rhododendron we had to cross over a large suspension bridge, over the Zigzag River. The bridge was a bit spooky, and undulated while walking some 60 feet above the river, in the dark! Once we got to the town we walked along Hwy 26 until we reached the Pioneer Tollgate Campground. We then cut into the campground a took a trail to our parked car. It was very dark for this last portion of the hike, and we got in our car and turned on the heat.
Just as we started the car and group of four people, and two dogs, were coming quickly towards our car. I thought they were going to ask for a ride, or more, but they parted and went around the car, and into the darkness of the campground area. What a way to end this stressful day.
We finally got on the road and were looking for the fire department, which is all we aware of for emergency service, in the Rhododendron area. They were closed but we rang the doorbell, and they gave us the Clackamas County sheriff dispatch. We called them and they were kind, and indicated a deputy sheriff would call us back.
We stopped at Subway and had a quick dinner. About an hour after our first call we finally got a phone call from a deputy sheriff. We had about a twenty minute conversation, and went over the encounter in detail. We gave them the coordinates of the tree, and the license plate of the car. We also went over the details of the encounter and she agreed it was very suspicious. We apologized if we seemed to be over-reacting but she was very supportive and thanked us for being responsible citizens, and that they prefer we report the type of behavior. She mentioned they would check this ASAP, and send a bomb squad if necessary!
A terrifying day but we’ve already moved past the issue, as of the date of this trip report entry. We’ve never, in over 2000+ hikes, ever had this experience, and hope never have to again. Our main reason for being scared, and following through with reporting it, is that we’ve heard stories about events that can happen in the forest, but rarely do. Please don’t fear going out on a hike in the forest, but it’s our best advice to stay on marked trails, and not venture off! And let me be perfectly clear, we have gone on an average of about 200 (that’s about four hikes per week) hikes per year for over 10 years and this type of incident has only happened once!!! I am much more concerned about driving to and from a trailhead then having something happen on a trail!