Hiker calls local teacher `hero'
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:24 PM
NORTH BEND Part of a teacher's job is to set a good
example, but it's not every day they turn into a hero in front of their class.
Joe Bergener, a teacher from Two Rivers Alternative School in
North Bend, did just that when he helped a woman with a broken ankle on a
trail in the Alpine Lakes area, located about 35 miles east of North Bend.
It was clear and sunny on Nov. 1 as Marilyn Lane and her friends,
Mary Pooler and Jan Munson, trekked up the Rachel Lake trail. Everyone was
having a great time until misfortune struck.
"My toe caught under a root and my other foot went forward and it
just went forward and broke," Lane said. "I've heard that sound before, so
I knew what had happened."
The three women are avid hikers and have gone on 25 hikes in the
Cascades this year alone. Lane is a Yakima resident who has been hiking for
30 years. She belongs to a group of women that hikes every Wednesday.
"We've hiked for a long time. We take care of ourselves, go to the
Y," Lane said.
This was their first time in the Rachel Lake area they usually
hike in the South Cascades. She attributes the break to a badly eroded portion
of the trail.
After she realized Lane was injured, Munson went for help.
"We knew we needed someone who was stronger than the women
that could help me over rough spots," Lane said.
Fortunately, Burgener was hiking nearby with his seventh- and
eighth-grade students, along with teaching assistant Denise Atkinson. They
heard Lane's friends through the woods.
"I could hear a faint `Help!'" Atkinson said.
Burgener often takes his students to the trail to learn about glacial
patterns, do watershed studies and participate in physical education at
the same time.
"The Rachel Lake trail is extremely popular it's probably
the most popular trail in the Cle Elum Ranger district," said Tim Foss of
the Cle Elum Ranger Station. "It's very pretty, only four miles [long] and
a very short drive from the Puget Sound area."
Foss explained that the first two miles are relatively gentle, but the
last two are quite steep, so it takes a hiker in pretty good shape to travel
them. The trail is a 2,200-foot climb, with the lake at the trail's end at 5,000
feet in elevation. He said that on the average, the ranger station receives
only one report of an ankle injury per year.
After Munson reached Burgener, he sent the class back down the
trail with Atkinson so they could be back to school in time for parent
pick-up. When he found the 78-year-old woman, he wrapped her ankle with
an Ace bandage.
Lane decided to walk down the trail instead of waiting in the
woods for a search-and-rescue team.
"Would you want to sit up in the woods when it's cold? You'd do
anything to get out, that's the way I felt about it," she said. "I think I was
more worried about people trying to carry me down this trail. The last thing
I wanted to do was be dropped."
Munson went ahead so she could get in range to make a cellular
phone call to emergency crews.
Burgener helped Lane down the trail, holding her arm for support
in the tricky spots. Pooler also walked with Lane. After a
search-and-rescue team from Kittitas County met up
with them halfway down, Burgener kept on helping.
"When they came, I thought that Joe could go because it's an
awfully slow walk. But he stayed with me, I was terribly impressed with
him," Lane said, explaining that Burgener gave her moral as well as physical
The search-and-rescue team members told Lane that she and her
friends were the best-prepared hikers that they'd helped.
"He said most of the people are less than half my age, are totally
unprepared and don't know what to do when injured," she said. "You
should always have extra clothing, extra food, lots of water, a flashlight
She and her friends had those essentials, in addition to a
lightweight "space" blanket, aspirin, a
compass and an Ace bandage.
"There are things you should always carry because you just
never know," she said.
In all, the ordeal from the time Lane broke her ankle to when
the group arrived back at the parking lot lasted six hours, and by the
end, the weather was turning cold and flashlights were needed.
Burgener held his flashlight in front of Lane.
"He was never in doubt we could make it down," she said. "When
Joe came up to us, I asked him how much farther is was, and he said about
It turned out to be several miles, and Lane said Joe told her the fib
because he didn't think she'd continue if she knew how far it was.
Burgener said he was impressed that the women were in better
physical shape than many of his students.
The brace is now off Lane's ankle and she plans on hiking as soon as
her doctor will allow it. She'll never forget that day, or Burgener's kindness.
But Burgener scoffs at being called a hero.
"There wasn't any choice you just fix the person's ankle," he
said, explaining that anyone would have done the same.
Lane disagrees. She said that not just anybody would help as much
as Burgener did, and his actions set a wonderful example for his students.
"I couldn't have done it without help. It's so nice because when
you need help and you have to turn to strangers, you don't know what
kind of response you'll get," she said.
"He certainly was a hero to me. I wish he was my son. This man just
came across as very considerate, willing to help and wanted to see the whole
"I hope the students appreciate him, and I hope the school does
and the community does," she added.
"It's good to have such an outstanding man in the community and in the