Before You Hike, Leave Critical Information

Vernal Fall in Yosemite...

Vernal Fall–image via Wikipedia

This continues a string of posts about hiking safely. Out west, extra snowmelt, combined with storms, led to deaths of hikers. A climber slipped while climbing the famous Half Dome in the rain. Hikers drowned trying to cross rivers. Backpackers were swept over Vernal Falls in Yosemite.

In New England and upstate New York, Tropical Storms, such as Irene, have contributed to problems for hikers and backpackers. However, there have been many search and rescue calls in New York’s Adirondacks in all seasons. Heart attacks, capsizings, drownings, falls, and lost hikers keep searchers and rescuers busy.

As I read through the reports, one bit of advice came to mind: Don’t try to do too much, too soon, too fast. I’ve been guilty of this too, and I’ve paid for it. Rushing in Virginia just so I could make it to a post office and pick up a care package before the P.O. closed for the weekend, cost me an extra week on the Appalachian Trail.

As I dug deeper into the reports, it was clear that some victims were not physically or mentally prepared to tackle so much. Extra snowmelt in the West should have meant extra caution and revised plans. In other accounts, hikers had left scattered information about their routes and destinations to loved ones. When they were expected to return and didn’t, families had to try to piece things together and scramble. Don’t forget, cell phones aren’t reliable in the wilderness.

This brings me to the planner and report forms at the bottom. I scanned the forms from the Adirondack Newspaper, Embark. These simple forms can make life easier for a lot of people and give you, the hiker, peace of mind as well. Searchers need specifics; rescuers need vital information.

Don’t forget to take it easy out in the wilds. Life is too short–enjoy it.

Backcountry search and rescue reports for hikers

Search and Rescue Reports–provided by DEC

A Backcountry Checklist

Former NPS director Mary A. Bomar in her park ...

Image via Wikipedia

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood Nation...

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood National Park, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area...

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think ahead before you step off on a hike. Leave an itinerary for loved ones, and and list your plans in case of emergency. If you prepare thoroughly before stepping off into the wilderness, you will have the best chance of returning safely. That old “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” thing.

There are tons of hiker checklists; I’ve seen some lists stretch to multiple pages. Some checklists are so involved that a casual backpacker or weekend camper doesn’t know where to begin and will ignore them.

The Backcountry Checklist below, taken from the Adirondack newspaper Embark, covers the basics and includes other reminders. In particular, it alerts hikers, backpackers, and campers to get the short-term weather forecast and to get current information from the local forest ranger. Just think of all the tragedies that could have been prevented in the backcountry if one had done these two things before stepping off. Even if a storm has ended and it’s sunny and mild out, a Ranger can tell you what rivers may give you trouble, what trails may be closed because of damaged bridges, what other problems to expect.

Note the item–non-cotton clothes–on the list. We’ve all seen young people, and children, in cotton T-shirts climbing mountains. Clueless. You need to wick off that sweat, especially if it turns cold and stormy. I once saw a young hiker and his girlfriend, both in commercial T-shirts, heading up a mountain path in the afternoon. I stopped to ask their intentions, and before I got a word out, he asked me if they would be able to make it up to the peak and back before dark. The young woman was drinking from a 20 oz. Seven-Up bottle. That’s the only liquid they had!

I would add two other reminders to this list: 1) Be physically ready if you plan to do serious hiking. 2) Hike with friends.

 

wilderness checklist for hikers, backpackers, campers

Survival and Rescue: A Growing Problem

Mahoosic Notch-Maine

 

Mt. Shasta– California–from PCT

A couple of years ago, an injured hiker was rescued after spending three nights on Mt. Hood in Oregon. At the same time on the East Coast, it took rescuers nine hours to bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell on a Maine mountain. More and more, we hear these stories. Why?

Some believe that the ubiquitous cell phone lends a false sense of security to hikers. The cell phone is the first line of defense for the backpacker who thinks he can rely on that more than maps, extra clothing, water, nourishment. Hikers forget that most cell phones don’t work in the mountains.

Also, with hiking and backpacking a growing interest, there are more hikers out there. And many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the basics, what to pack, how to handle bad weather, how to read field maps, how to prepare a backup plan, etc.

We aren’t given every detail in the first incident referred to above, but according to the article the young woman is an avid hiker who “ate berries and bugs and covered herself with moss to stay warm.” She deserves a lot of credit for surviving, but here’s the thing: She was found wearing only a T-shirt and shorts! True, she became separated from her boyfriend after dropping her gear to look for a better campsite, but when they got out of shouting range, it may have been a good time for her to go back and get her pack.

In the second incident referred to, an experienced hiker fell off a mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He was injured and couldn’t move but, luckily, was able to call for help with his cell. Unfortunately, he was three miles from the nearest road. We aren’t given all the details here, either, but it appears that he was hiking with just one other person, his niece.

I’ve hiked alone, but not anymore. And you always put an outing at risk when you hike with just one other person who is dependent on you, especially if you can’t get your cell phone to work. What could his niece have done then? She would have had to leave him and tramp on alone to try to get help. Another risk.

Not only is it safer, it’s more fun to hike with a group. You learn things, and you’re ready to help others.

So, study your maps; prepare, pack smartly, and stay alert; hike with friends.

Hiking in Virginia mountains with Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail

“THE Trail”

 

TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger                                                           IMG_1505[2]

I hope my readers will permit me a departure from the usual post. Happy to say that my Appalachian Trail thriller, The Trail, from Turner Publishing, appears to be doing well. It was a long siege from first draft to publication, and the easiest part was the actual thru-hike of the A.T.

This is a thriller. I’ve put a mean and nasty fugitive, wanted for murder, out on the trail. In my afterword, I explain that I had a wonderful thru-hike and did not meet any problem characters. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to remain alert in the wilds. No one wants to meet my villain “Moonwalker” anywhere.

As many of you know, I conceived and fleshed out the plot as I thru-hiked. When I started out in Georgia, I had no plans to write a book, much less a thriller. But three weeks in, I was hiking alone in dense forest. The wind picked up and the sky darkened as a storm brewed. I felt vulnerable and nervous, and wondered if I could defend myself if I were attacked by another human. And that’s how this all started.

My research revealed that 11 documented murders have occurred on or near the A.T. since 1976. Sad but true. I advise anyone not to hike alone; go with at least one friend. That way you can look out for each other and be there if someone gets sick or injured. With friends you can enjoy those special moments and record them.

You can order The Trail by clicking here:   http://www.turnerpublishing.com/books/detail/the-trail

To all hikers everywhere–Happy trails!

IMG_2591       katahdin

Hiker Killed by Grizzly

A lot of you are out hiking trails now, so I’m running this post again, which appeared last year.

YELLOWSTONE GRIZZLY KILLS HIKER.  An autopsy confirmed that a 59 year-old man was killed while hiking near the Mary Mountain Trail in Yellowstone National Park. This is the second fatality from a grizzly at Yellowstone this year (2015).

Grizzly bears are aggressive. Black bears, which are found in the east, are smaller and shy away from humans. Being attacked by a black bear is unlikely, but there have been 63 fatal black bear attacks in the United States and Canada between 1900 and 2009.

In any case, grizzly and black bears will do anything to get food. Because of this, there are two things you need to do when you hike in the wilds.

1) Camp for the night several miles beyond where you cooked your last meal.

2) Hang your food at your campsite.

grizzlyAs the sign in the picture says, Food Odors Attract Bears. If you cook and tent in the same spot, you’re asking for trouble. Always. Bears zero in on the odors and will wreck a camp looking for food.

I realize that on the Appalachian Trail and on other trails, hikers will congregate at some of the shelters to cook and camp for the night. I do that also. That brings us to the second point. While there is safety in numbers, you must hang your food, and hang it sufficiently high, out on a tree limb (not next to the tree, which a bear will climb). We picked limbs away from tents and shelters, so we could sleep in peace.

From all that I’ve read and seen (saw black bears on four separate occasions while thru-hiking the A.T.), bears simply want food. If you practice these two things–camp beyond where you cook, and hang your food–you will greatly reduce the chances of a bear encounter.

Hiker Rescues: The Sat Phone; The PLB

Personal Location Beacon for hikers

You’re alone and isolated in the wilds. You are injured, cold, and thirsty. You are shivering; the outlook is not good. The surest way to be rescued and survive is with a Satellite (Sat) Phone. The next best alternative is the Personal Location Beacon (PLB).

But how much do these things cost? And what do they weigh?

Let’s start with Sat Phones. They are expensive, weigh about a pound, and involve plans. In this example, you can get a free phone and pay over $300.00 a month for service, or buy a phone and pay $15.00 a month for service. Let’s face it, most hikers are not going to make this investment. Rentals are possible but also expensive; one example I saw charged the user $1.75 a minute, but to avoid paying higher rental fees, the user would have to buy a minimum of 200 minutes.

I think Satellite Phones are a good idea if a leader is in charge of a hiking group and the cost can be defrayed among the hikers.

The PLB, sometimes known as a distress radio beacon or an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons), is an alternative. However, you can’t converse on PLBs; they are used to signal your location. The phones are almost as expensive as some Sat Phones, but don’t require a subscriber plan. I’ve heard of one instance where PLB’s can be rented at Ranger Stations. Be sure to read the comprehensive user reviews for the “Fast Find” PLB at the website just above.

Now for something kind of in-between. While not a satellite phone, the Spot Connect device turns your smartphone into a satellite communicator. You pair your smartphone with Spot Connect and get connected to a global satellite network. You can then send one-way text/typed message via satellite. You can’t have a conversation; you send vital details and wait. But I like the idea and have noticed their ads in Backpacker Magazine.

The Spot Connect system weighs 5 oz and costs around $150.00. It can be bundled with a basic service plan costing $100.00

I think any serious hiker going solo should use  a PLB, or a device like Spot Connect. I do see one problem, however. Just as cell phones seem to give one a false sense of security in the wilds, leading to more and more rescues of hikers that are foolish and unprepared, PLB’s are going to make hikers take increased risks more often. If a type-A hiker wants to bag that one last peak, or wants to get across that gushing river somehow, he’ll chance it with a PLB. And that’s not wise.PLB for hikers

 

Hiker Killed by Grizzly

YELLOWSTONE GRIZZLY KILLS HIKER.  An autopsy confirmed that a 59 year-old man was killed while hiking near the Mary Mountain Trail in Yellowstone National Park. This is not the first fatality from a grizzly at Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzly bears are aggressive. Black bears, which are found in the east, are smaller and shy away from humans. Being attacked by a black bear is unlikely, but there have been 63 fatal black bear attacks in the United States and Canada between 1900 and 2009.

In any case, grizzly and black bears will do anything to get food. Because of this, there are two things you need to do when you hike in the wilds.

1) Camp for the night several miles beyond where you cooked your last meal.

2) Hang your food at your campsite.

grizzly

As the sign in the picture says, Food Odors Attract Bears. If you cook and tent in the same spot, you’re asking for trouble. Always. Bears zero in on the odors and will wreck a camp looking for food.

I realize that on the Appalachian Trail and on other trails, hikers will congregate at some of the shelters to cook and camp for the night. I do too. That brings us to the second point. While there is safety in numbers, you must hang your food, and hang it sufficiently high, out on a tree limb (not next to the tree, which a bear will climb). We picked limbs away from tents and shelters, so we could sleep in peace.

From all that I’ve read and seen (saw black bears on four separate occasions while thru-hiking the A.T.), bears simply want food. If you practice these two things–camp beyond where you cook, and hang your food–you will greatly reduce the chances of a dangerous bear encounter.

Survival and Rescue: A Growing Problem

Mahoosic Notch-Maine

 

Mt. Shasta– California–from PCT

A couple of years ago, an injured hiker was rescued after spending three nights on Mt. Hood in Oregon. At the same time on the East Coast, it took rescuers nine hours to bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell on a Maine mountain. More and more, we hear these stories. Why?

Some believe that the ubiquitous cell phone lends a false sense of security to hikers. The cell phone is the first line of defense for the backpacker who thinks he can rely on that more than maps, extra clothing, water, nourishment. Hikers forget that most cell phones don’t work in the mountains.

Also, with hiking and backpacking a growing interest, there are more hikers out there. And many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the basics, what to pack, how to handle bad weather, how to read field maps, how to prepare a backup plan, etc.

We aren’t given every detail in the first incident referred to above, but according to the article the young woman is an avid hiker who “ate berries and bugs and covered herself with moss to stay warm.” She deserves a lot of credit for surviving, but here’s the thing: She was found wearing only a T-shirt and shorts! True, she became separated from her boyfriend after dropping her gear to look for a better campsite, but when they got out of shouting range, it may have been a good time for her to go back and get her pack.

In the second incident referred to, an experienced hiker fell off a mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He was injured and couldn’t move but, luckily, was able to call for help with his cell. Unfortunately, he was three miles from the nearest road. We aren’t given all the details here, either, but it appears that he was hiking with just one other person, his niece.

I’ve hiked alone, but not anymore. And you always put an outing at risk when you hike with just one other person who is dependent on you, especially if you can’t get your cell phone to work. What could his niece have done then? She would have had to leave him and tramp on alone to try to get help. Another risk.

Not only is it safer, it’s more fun to hike with a group. You learn things, and you’re ready to help others.

So, study your maps; prepare, pack smartly, and stay alert; hike with friends.

Hiking in Virginia mountains with Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail

“THE Trail”

 

TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger                                                           IMG_1505[2]

I hope my readers will permit me a departure from the usual post. Happy to say that my Appalachian Trail thriller, The Trail, has been released by Turner Publishing–today! It’s been a long siege from first draft to publication, and the easiest part was the actual thru-hike of the A.T.

This is a thriller. I’ve put a mean and nasty fugitive, wanted for murder, out on the trail. In my afterword, I explain that I had a wonderful thru-hike and did not meet any problem characters. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to remain alert in the wilds. No one wants to meet my villain “Moonwalker” anywhere.

As some of you know, I conceived and fleshed out the plot as I thru-hiked. When I started out in Georgia, I had no plans to write a book, much less a thriller. But three weeks in, I was hiking alone in dense forest. The wind picked up and the sky darkened as a storm brewed. I felt vulnerable and nervous, and wondered if I could defend myself if I were attacked by another human. And that’s how this all started.

My research revealed that 11 documented murders have occurred on or near the A.T. since 1976. Sad but true. I advise anyone not to hike alone; go with at least one friend. That way you can look out for each other and be there if someone gets sick or injured. With friends you can enjoy those special moments and record them.

You can order The Trail by clicking here:   http://www.turnerpublishing.com/books/detail/the-trail

To all hikers everywhere–Happy trails!

IMG_2591       katahdin

Hiking Safely #3

 

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On my last post, I mentioned using a drop of bleach to treat sifted puddle water in an emergency. I feel guilty; I don’t carry bleach and have only met one or two hikers that do. Iodine tablets could be used, and I always pack a tiny bottle of them. The problem is that water purification systems that rely on pumping through a filter, don’t work well, if at all, in a shallow puddle. So, if you’ve run out of water, or are injured, and desperately need it, you could drain puddle water through a bandana or sock, and then apply treatment such as iodine tablets, halazone, Aqua Mira, etc., or boil the water.

The only water treatment system I’ve used for the last eight years is, Aqua Mira. Sold in outdoor stores, just use the mixing cap provided, and follow the instructions. Most hikers use pump systems, but they weigh more, take up more room in a pack, and they can clog.

A neat emergency item to have, especially on a group camping trip, is a small, self-powered AM/FM, NOAA Weather Radio. The Eton radio is endorsed by the American Red Cross, and combines a flashlight, solar power, and USB cell phone charger. Do I carry this radio when I hike alone? Not usually, although I should. I’m too conscious of pack weight and take the chance I won’t need it. For any type of group hike, I do recommend it. Someone should pack one to keep up on NOAA weather information. Stay alert, be prepared.