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Oregon college student’s nearly fatal hike is a reminder to avoid nature

This would never have happened to her inside.


Curt Hopkins


Published Jun 6, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 3:58 pm CDT

April Meads fell off a cliff. Then she grabbed a branch. Then the branch broke. Then she grabbed a root. Then she hung off the root for 45 minutes 100 feet above the ground.

Then a naked, mountain climbing Dutchman came along and made a rope out of his clothing and saved her.

Then they got married and lived happily ever after. It was a polyamorous marriage, I guess.

Amazingly, the only part of the foregoing Normal Tale of Everyday Hiking in Oregon is the last line. But give those crazy kids time.

Meads, a student at Linfield College, had gone out hiking with her sister, Stacy, in the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most dramatic places on Earth and the actual route by which Lewis and Clark eventually set eyes on the Pacific Ocean.

The Gorge is positively lousy with waterfalls. As Meads tells it in a blog post titled “Hanging Out at Horsetail Falls… Literally,” they happened upon one during their May 31 hike. And then they happened upon another one. And then there was screaming.  

After stopping at Horsetail Falls, the sisters got slightly turned around, which is not hard to do when there is a network of interconnected paths. They wound up heading toward Triple Falls. After reaching Triple and taco-ing up, April and Stacy turned back, but when April stepped aside to make room for other hikers, she shot down a cliff she didn’t see.

She reached out desperately for anything should find.

“I started clawing at the earth for anything to grab onto,” she wrote. “I finally caught hold of a tree branch sticking out of the cliff and was careful not to move, as a man (the one I had moved to the side of the path for) hollered down for me to keep flat to the earth.”

The branch stopped her plummeting 100 feet to the ground below, but after five seconds, it broke loose from the earth and she started to fall again. She hooked a tree root and that held, right at the point where the cliff turned in, leaving nothing but air between Meads and the bloodthirsty ground of the Pacific Northwest, a ground famous for its near-sentient evil and malicious lust for human blood.

The most darkly funny moment was when April’s sister tried to calm her using a technique fed to her by the 911 dispatcher.

“‘April, what do you want for dinner?'”

“‘Don’t,’ I said as I shook my head.”

Meads hung from the root—one toe treading crumbling cliff soil and the opposite knee balanced in a shallow recess—for 45 minutes, until another hiker came along. The man, Wim Aarts, tried to reach her with a rope he’d tied out of his own clothes. She couldn’t take hold of it, so he clambered down to her and tied her to the free end of the makeshift rope.

In fairness, Meads didn’t say Wim was naked. But he made a rope out of his clothes, and this is Oregon we’re talking about, so let’s assume he was.

Other hikers above, holding on to the other end of the rope, helped swing a terrified Meads onto a level piece of ground to one side. After getting her topside, Wim and his wife Anna-Marie walked April and Stacy back down to their car. Wim and Anna-Marie are members of the Mazamas, a regional mountaineering club.  

So what are the lessons we can draw from this story?

  1. Oregonians are awesome.
  2. These days, we get to tell our own stories, even if we’re the hapless ingénue in a Warner Bros. cartoon.
  3. Nature will kill you.

Photo via Joe Parks/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 6, 2015, 9:17 am CDT