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Hiker who died near Multnomah Falls likely fell after stepping off trail, officials say

Sept. 16, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 16, 2022 at 3:50 p.m.

By Jamie Hale The Oregonian

A Minnesota woman who died while hiking near Multnomah Falls last month apparently fell after losing her footing off the trail, officials said.

The hiker, previously identified as 62-year-old Jessica Warejoncas, was found dead near Wiesendanger Falls on Aug. 19. The waterfall is located about 1.3 miles upstream from Multnomah Falls on the Larch Mountain Trail.

Witnesses told search and rescue officials that Warejoncas stepped off the trail to avoid a patch of loose gravel and lost her footing while rounding the switchbacks near the waterfall, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said.

That portion of the Larch Mountain Trail narrows as it climbs above the 50-foot Weisendanger Falls, flanked by a sudden drop-off on one side and a steep hill or sheer cliff wall on the other. While the sheriff’s office initially reported that Warejoncas fell 100 feet, further review indicated the fall to be about 50 to 75 feet, spokesperson Chris Liedle said.

Officials say piecing together the details of stories like this can be tricky. Forensic evidence like footprints, rockfall or items left behind tell only part of the story, and witness accounts – when there are witnesses who come forward – might not necessarily be reliable.

Officials initially reported that Warejoncas was hiking with a group when she fell, but they did not clarify whether the witnesses who spoke with search and rescue teams were part of that group. Liedle said the witnesses were not familiar with the trail or the area, which could affect the accuracy of their accounts.

“Witness statements are also based on their familiarity with an area and memory, which is often tested during a very traumatic event. All these factors can lead to some ambiguity,” Liedle said. “Our team does its best to piece all the fragments into a complete, or more complete story.”

Liedle said investigators haven’t been able to offer details about the 20-year-old hiker who died days after Warejoncas on the nearby Angels Rest Trail for the simple fact that they themselves don’t know what happened.

Search and rescue crews spent 22 hours recovering the body of Kriss Arturo Garcia, who was found at the bottom of a cliff about 2.5 miles from the Angels Rest Trailhead, the sheriff’s office said. Investigators believe Garcia was alone when he fell, and have determined the death to be accidental.

“To date, no one has come forward to say they witnessed the actual fall, so there just isn’t information available to determine what led up to the fall,” Liedle said.

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