Hit the trails prepared for the worst
Sometimes it's just a bad day. Other times, it's because a hiker wasn't prepared.
"If you have done any hiking, you know how easy it is to slip on a rock or twist your leg and get hurt," says New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lt. James Goss. "Even if you are going out for a simple day hike and don't have a flashlight, you can run into delays, it gets dark and we have to come get you."
As spring turns to a busy summer of hiking the state's pristine White Mountains and beyond, planning ahead is the quintessential mantra for any hiker – novice or know-it-all.
Fish and Game, the state's organizing force for search and rescue missions, has teamed up with the White Mountain National Forest and non-profit volunteer New Hampshire Outdoor Council on the hikeSafe program, which is designed to educate the public on safe hiking through an informative website. The popular program advises hikers in its Hiker Responsibility Code to be prepared with knowledge and gear. Leave your plans with someone. Stay together. It's OK to turn back. Know what to do in an emergency. Spread the word to others.
If a hiker is hurt or lost, it takes several hours and lots of manpower from outdoor groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team and Randolph Mountain Club to undertake an operation.
And often it's the simple things that avert a mishap.
"Often a person going on a two-mile hike won't have rain gear, a flashlight or a trail map," says Goss, the hikeSafe coordinator. "Darkness comes, they call 911 on their cell and we need to get them. Or they don't have sufficient gear when it gets cold at night in the summer, in the 40s. Sometimes even people wearing proper footwear break their legs. It's important to be prepared."
So hike safe.
There are roughly 100 hiking incidents reported to New Hampshire Fish and Game annually. In 2011, it was 115; in 2010, 98.
Every hiker should have, and read, the "AMC White Mountain Guide." The new 29th edition contains trail descriptions, pull-out maps and forest updates ($24.95). Put it in a lightweight, water-resistant daypack with easy-access compartments like the medium or large L.L. Bean Daytrekker 25 ($79). Sturdy, comfortable boots underfoot are essential like Merrell's Outland Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot ($130).
Expert Advice with Aaron Gorban
Aaron Gorban has worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club for nearly 16 years. Over the last seven years he has served as the club's director of Outdoors Leadership Training. The Gorham hiker, Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician and father is well-versed in educating hikers about preventing problems on the trails.
What are the best ways to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike?
Pick a hike appropriate to your level of physical fitness and consistent with your personal goals. Planning and preparation are key so obtain a guidebook and the appropriate map, check the weather and research the terrain, current trail conditions, closures, regulations, etc. prior to heading into the woods. Decisions regarding your route, equipment and clothing, etc. should be based on this research.
Is the weather on the mountain always the same as the trailhead where I start?
Typically we see the weather conditions change as we gain elevation. As we climb and gain elevation we tend to see the weather get colder and windier than found in lower elevations. In northern New England, gaining 1,000 feet of elevation is the approximate equal to traveling 200 miles north. These dynamics reinforce the importance of planning ahead and being appropriately prepared for your hike.
If I'm hiking with a group and someone gets hurt, how do we get help?
One of the best things a hiking party can do is be prepared with some basic wilderness first aid training, which covers the many variables that need to be considered when managing an accident in the backcountry. Unfortunately, that is not always an option. If you can't get a cell signal, you should have at least one person stay with the patient and ideally send three people out of the woods with documentation on the patient's condition, a map with their location and any resources that might be needed.
Can I hike alone?
While most land managers have no specific restrictions against solo hiking, the risks are certainly increased when striking out on your own. A relatively common ankle fracture can become a life threat if a person is unable to make their way out of the woods under their own power. While we would advocate all hikers leave their itinerary and expected return time with a friend or loved one, it is even more imperative that a solo hiker take these steps. We generally advise people in our training that your group members are among your greatest resources when hiking and this is a resource that you don't have when on your own.
What should I bring on a day hike?
The AMC is a partner in hikeSafe. This program includes the "10 Essentials." They include: map, compass, warm clothing (not cotton), extra food and water, flashlight or headlamp, matches or firestarters, first aid and repair kit, whistle, rain/wind jacket and pants and pocket knife. In addition, hikers should consider the specific hazards and environmental conditions they may face.
I hear about "being aware" during a hike. What's that mean?
Hikers should be aware of the many changing variables that they may encounter while traveling in the backcountry and have the clothing, equipment, and knowledge of their use to effectively manage those variables.Watch for "objective hazards" like weather, terrain and other environmental conditions and factors such as a swollen stream that one must cross. Consider "subjective hazards" like nutrition, hydration, judgment, communication with group members and fitness etc. Experienced hikers reassess these variables in an ongoing manner and are willing to modify their plans based on the dynamic nature of those variables.