Hiker hangs onto tree root for 45 minutes after falling off trail edge

MILWAUKIE, Ore. -- April Meads was stepping aside to let another hiker pass on the trail near Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

That turned out to be one step too many.

After a rock came loose, Meads tumbled over the edge.

She grabbed onto a tree branch and stopped the fall.

Her sister Stacey watched from the trail.

"I grabbed onto the branch," says April, "and I made eye contact with my sister. She looked terrified. And that made me more terrified."

But that branch didn't hold her. She started sliding toward a 100-foot drop-off.

April managed to grab a tree root and plant one toe on solid ground.

"All I could see was her hands and her head," says Stacey Meads. "She was basically the size of my thumb. So she was really far down there."

April knew she was in trouble when she dropped her water bottle, and never heard it hit bottom.

She hung on though, for about 45 minutes, while her sister called 911.

And waited.

Finally some other hikers from the Mazama Mountaineering Group, who happened to be on the same trail, came to the rescue.

They made a rope out of shirts, pants and whatever they had, and one of the mountaineers made his way down to April.

"My arms were straight above my head. And the cliff just sort of dropped off at my waist," says April.

"He handed me the clothing rope. I had to let go with my right hand, tie it around my waist and hand it back to him. He was holding onto another branch. So he had to tie the knot with one hand, and I had to trust the one-handed knot was going to hold."

It did, and they eventually got back to the trail.

April says she has the Mazama group to thank for saving her.

She also has the bruises, scratches and sore muscles to remind her of what she went through.

As if she could ever forget.

"I went over to my sister, and we just both started crying. I don't even remember what I was thinking."

But April admits, while she was hanging on for dear life, she remembered her phone was in her back pocket.

She thought, briefly, about taking a selfie.

Then thought "now's not the time."

Stacey says she's ready to go hiking again, but now is keeping a closer eye on her sister.

"Even just walking around, if she trips a little, I just grab onto her," says Stacey. "I'll make sure she goes nowhere near the edge."

For April, she'll get back to hiking, eventually.

"It will be awhile before I go back there. When I start hiking again, that's the last place I'm going to go."

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