Stranded hunters rescued on Bear Camp

If you're contemplating a drive over the nearly 50-mile Bear Camp Coastal Route between Agness and Galice this fall or winter, forget about it.

Not even on a sunny holiday weekend.

Authorities are reminding travelers of the road's seasonal hazards after two different sets of eastbound motorists had to be rescued late last week after becoming stranded in deep snow on the mountain road.

"Common sense should come into play when you travel — it's unforgiving country up there," Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said Tuesday in Gold Beach. "It's a dangerous road even during the summer. And the first time we get some heavy rain during the winter down here, it's snowing up there."

Last week's stranded drivers kept going despite a half dozen large permanent signs reading "Travel Beyond This Point NOT ADVISED Nov. 5 Thru May 31." An Alabama couple got stuck Thursday, and two Oregon elk hunters followed suit Friday.

The hunters — Keith Sjogren, 23, of Coquille and Brian Simones, 24, of North Bend — were stranded in the snow late Friday afternoon, according to the Curry County Sheriff's Department, which received a call from Sjogren's mother in Coquille. Bishop said she received a text message from her son, but the signal was too weak for a conversation, and an effort to locate the hunters by pinging their cell phone was unsuccessful.

Search-and-rescue units from Curry and Josephine counties, with help from the U.S. Forest Service, located the two men about 15 miles east of Agness. Bishop said searchers encountered 3-foot snow drifts while heavy snow continued to fall.

Sjogren and Simones were found at 8:55 p.m. in their pickup, which was across the road with the front end buried in the roadside ditch. They were wearing only light clothes and tennis shoes, and both were cold and wet.

Bishop said both were showing signs of hypothermia, although they refused medical attention. Rescuers helped them recover their vehicle. He said they appeared to have gotten stuck while trying to turn around.

Had they not been rescued, at least one of the two probably would not have survived the night, officials said, noting the heater in their truck didn't work and a window was broken out.

In Thursday's incident, Charles Hill, 53, and Karen Hill, 48, of Florence, Ala., were stranded in the snow on the Bear Camp route after relying on their GPS navigation device to get from Highway 101 to Interstate 5. The couple said the GPS instructed them to travel from Gold Beach to Agness, then follow the Bear Camp route to cross the Coast Range.

Searchers from Josephine and Curry counties found the couple about a half-mile east of the Bear Camp overlook.

Formerly known as the Bear Camp Road, the route is not maintained from Nov. 5 through Memorial Day weekend. While it is not officially closed during the winter, it is blocked by Mother Nature with snowdrifts that can exceed 12 feet in the higher elevations. Winter storms often leave downed trees across the road.

Getting stranded in the area is merely an expensive experience for most, but it was deadly for James Kim of San Francisco in December 2006. After the family car became stuck in the snow, Kim attempted to walk out and died of hypothermia. His wife and two children, who stayed with the car, were rescued and survived.

About 37 miles of the Bear Camp road lies within Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest boundaries. Some 12 miles is on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

Shortly after the hunters were rescued, forest officials put up temporary sign barricades warning travelers that the road has been closed by heavy snow, forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said. The agency declined a request from the sheriff's office to close the road, she said.

"We didn't close the road because it provides access for winter recreation," she said. "Local people have also used it for years and years to get their Christmas trees. They are familiar with the road and the weather. They come prepared."

When anyone contacts the forest offices in Grants Pass or Gold Beach for information on road conditions, they are warned not to take that route in the winter, she said.

"People at our front desks tell them it is not advisable to try to travel over it," she said, noting that most travelers take the advice.

"People need to use common sense," Bishop reiterated. "If you are on a dark, narrow, winding road and you start running into snow, it's time to re-evaluate your plans.

"It's not a road you want to take for through travel. If it's snowing hard and you get a wind up there, that snow can cover a car."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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