Popular recreation site scene of recent rescues
Last updated 7/25/2023 at 11:13am
The Blue Pool, properly known as Tamolitch Falls, has been the scene of three rescues this month. On July 2, an injured person was airlifted to safety. Last week three people were rescued from the highly popular summer trail just two days after the July 15 rescue of two.
As the days grow warmer, the already burdened trail 50 miles to the west of Sisters brings out hundreds of hikers and, in some cases, thrill seekers. The parking lot cannot handle the traffic that often stretches a half mile down the access road in the Willamette National Forest.
The hike is 3.9 miles out and back, much of it in the shade and straddling the icy McKenzie River. The allure of the Pool is its stunning turquoise-colored water that at the time of the last rescue was 37 degrees, dangerously cold, rescuers say.
At Blue Pool, you can work your way down the steep embankment and go for a chilly swim. The pool is formed where the McKenzie River emerges after submerging into a lava tube at the Carmen Reservoir, creating Tamolitch Falls. It's known as a "dry fall" because during especially wet, rainy winters the river will flood over the lava bed and waterfall into Tamolitch Pool.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F. Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which a dip in Blue Pool can bring on rapidly.
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system, and other organs can't work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system, and eventually to death.
It takes less than three minutes in Blue Pool to lose loss of dexterity and as little as 15 minutes to lose consciousness.
Injuries at Blue Pool come in several forms. Some jump into the pool and immediately go into shock in the icy-cold water. Others jump into the pool and miss. There are the people who fall by accident, and the people who struggle on the rugged scramble from the main trail unprepared for the experience.
A University of Oregon tennis star died after diving into the water in 2013. In 2015, a Bend photographer died after falling from the cliffs. Such episodes have not deterred risk-takers, who continue to share cliff-diving videos on social media, drawing even more to the risky behavior.
Blue Pool is wildly popular on Instagram and TikTok, and that, according to Darren Cross, McKenzie River district ranger, is the primary source of the problem. Changes are coming, Cross told reporters. In 2022, responding to the rash of incidents, the Willamette National Forest approved a rule that would add several safety measures to the pool and ban swimming altogether - though it could be several years before those measures take effect.
The rule change was part of a broader environmental assessment, and will also result in construction of a larger trailhead parking lot, a toilet, and a two-mile reroute of the McKenzie River Trail, all part of an effort to keep visitors safe, protect the natural environment, and reduce congestion, Forest officials say.
Cross said it will likely be three to five years before any construction is done, though the swimming ban could come sooner.
The delay of the ban is a matter of enforcement -nearly impossible on a practical basis. Jumping into Blue Pool, a frigid pool of ice-cold water surrounded by jagged rocks, is extremely dangerous but not illegal per se. The U.S. Forest Service could issue citations, but Cross imagines a good number will be willing to risk the $50 fine for a few seconds of fame.
"Once people go there, there's no way to control what they do," Cross said. "I don't know that people understand how serious the dangers are."
Meanwhile trail users are advised to take precautions and avoid the temptation to take the plunge.