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Young hiker dies on South Sister in the Three Sisters Wilderness









The Bulletin
October, 2006
By Lisa Rosette

Trent Gabel didn't like his picture being taken. The 15-year-old Tillamook teen shied away from the camera. But on a hike on South Sister Friday, a guide in Gabel's youth group caught one of the last smiles of his life on film.

Gabel died minutes later when he slid 30 feet down the west side of South Sister, hitting his head on a large rock, the Lane County Sheriffs Office said.

His body was recovered by the Oregon Army National Guard and flown to St. Charles Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Gabel was among seven teens and eight adult guides in the Pathfinders Club from Tillamook who traveled to the Three Sisters Wilderness for a four-day backpacking adventure.

The teen, described as an avid outdoorsman, had been on countless adventures with the coed Christian outdoors group, said Eric Swanson, Pathfinders director.

"Trent by far was the most skilled and most able to complete any climb," Swanson said.

A passion for nature and adventure ran in the young Gabel's blood, Swanson said. For five years his father, Michael Gabel, had been the director of the Pathfinders. The teen's grandfather, whom he was named after, also lost his life in the woods. He died of a heart attack while he was hiking, before Trent Gabel was born.

Trent Gabel's parents declined to be interviewed by The Bulletin because they were busy making funeral arrangements, said Swanson, a friend of the family's.

On Friday morning, an adult guide and Gable decided to make an ascent to the summit of Middle Sister.

They had maps and radios. At 2 p.m., they said, they'd turn around and head back to camp, no matter how far they had made it on their hike.

It was 9 a.m. when they left.

About 2 p.m., Swanson heard his radio squelch.

There has been an accident, the guide said.

Swanson immediately summoned the help of the other adults on the trip. Some traveled to higher ground where their cell phones would work and called 911.

But Gabel, who had slid 30 feet down the west slope of the mountain and hit a rock headfirst was already dead from spinal fractures and massive head trauma, Swanson said he was told by rescuers.

The teen and adult guide had been standing on a flat area on the saddle between the South and Middle Sister while they took pictures, Swanson said.

Gabel was less than 100 yards away from the guide, who stood with his back turned to the teen as he snapped pictures of the wilderness.

The earth beneath Gabel may have given way, causing him to fall over the edge and down a steep slope, Swanson said. Only the sound of tumbling rocks could be heard.

"(The adult guide) heard some rocks falling," Swanson said. "But they had been hearing rocks fall all day."

The guide checked Gabel's pulse and respiration. Nothing. He then took the radio out, of Gabel's backpack, and called for help. The guide, dressed in shorts and a wind breaker, stayed with the teen's body for two hours before finally descending to, get warmer clothes and food.

The, Pathfinder Group - among them Gabel's 17 year old sister - hiked out to the McKenzie Bridge Ranger Station and met with law enforcement officers.

"It was tough," Swanson said.

Summer is the most dangerous time of the year to summit the Cascades peaks, which are made of lava, said John Miller, Lane County Search and Rescue coordinator.

"The transition between the dawn and the heat causes a lot of things to come loose ... everything you step on, everything you touch, is potentially loose and can roll down the hill," Miller said.

There have been two deaths in the Cascades recently, both climbing accidents, Miller said. The first was in early July, when a Portland doctor fell off of North Sister, sliding 600 feet down the west face. The second was Gabel's.

The search and rescue coordinator recommends that hikers stay on well-traveled trails, and away from the peaks.

"I call it a mountain of rubble, for a lack of a better word," Miller said, referring to the loose, shifting lava rock. "It's quite hazardous once you start getting into the steeper degrees of elevation."

The funeral for Gabel, a student at the Tillamook Adventist School, is on Wednesday.

He was just all around a good kid," Swanson said

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