How much does it cost to mount a search-and-rescue operation on Mount Hood, and who pays for it? And how many of these things do they do every year, anyway?

—Mitch F.

There's something about getting lost on Mount Hood that really seems to piss people off. "Every year the mountain takes people who go despite the weather and unprepared," grouses a typical Oregonian commenter. "Every year taxpayers expend millions of dollars looking for these people."

To set the record straight: It does not cost millions of dollars to do a rescue on Mount Hood. Most of the rescuers are volunteers, the military comps its time as a training opportunity, and the sheriff's departments under whose jurisdiction the rescues fall are mostly on duty anyway—the only added costs are departmental overtime and doughnuts. The bill for a big rescue ends up in the high four figures, according to published estimates.

To put this into perspective, the Portland Fire Bureau had a budget of $87 million and put out 2,071 fires in 2007-2008, which works out to about 42 grand a fire. Since most fires are the preventable result of carelessness, why is it mountain climbers rather than fire victims, for example, who get tagged as a waste of resources?

"People think, 'I would never climb a mountain, that's crazy!'" says Portland Mountain Rescue's Monty Smith, whose group is mobilized about once a month. "There's a mentality that we shouldn't go get people who do 'stupid' things. But climbers as a group devote more volunteer time to searching for their own than any community except pilots." In other words, even if you think mountain climbers are morons, their moron friends are taking care of them, not you. So open another bag of Doritos, Mr. Mountain Safety, and chill.