Wednesday, February 12, 2020

15 Lessons Learned from a Missing Hiker Case

Over the past few days, much of the local news has been focused on a hiker who was reported missing in the nearby Red Rock Canyon area.  Unfortunately, the hiker was found dead, with the cause of death so far unknown.  Here are 15 tips for staying safe when you are out hiking, whether for a day or while doing a multi-day trip.
  1. Go with a buddy if possible,  It's safer to walk with others rather than alone, especially in the case of a fall or other accident/medical event.  In our area, there are several hiking groups that have hikes planned on a daily basis for anyone who wants to come along.
  2. If you will be in a very remote area of if no one would be looking for you if you turn up missing, consider carrying a PLB.
  3. Leave an itinerary with a trusted person that includes: where you are parking, what trail you plan to do, time leaving, and estimated time of return.  Obviously if you are an hour late they shouldn't panic but if you are several hours late they should call out the cavalry.  This hiker was reported missing--and resources were deployed immediately--soon after he called a loved one to say he was lost.
  4. Take a photo of yourself at the trail head and send it to the same trusted person.  This way, if Search and Rescue needs to go out and find you, they will know exactly what you look like and what you were wearing.
  5. Know how to use a map and compass and well as how to use the GPS on your cell phone/watch.  People think that as long as they follow a trail they won't get lost, but it's common that one trail can branch off into many more trails over the course of miles so be prepared for this possibility.
  6. Before you go, check out the area you will be hiking on Google maps then pan out to see what surrounds the area you will be hiking in.  In the area this guy was lost in, he literally had to walk east and he would have ran into Las Vegas.
  7. Always dress for the weather.  The person who reported the hiker missing said he may not have been prepared for the weather but again, people should always plan for steep swings in the weather in mountainous areas.  The area he was in could range from 65 degrees in the sun to 20 degrees overnight.  A down jacket and thin rain shell are worth their weight to carry.
  8. Always carry the "ten essentials".  A buddy came to visit after completing the Pacific Crest Trail,  He wanted to check out some trails in the same area where this hiker ended up missing so I gave him some gear, along with the ten essentials, and he said "nah I'm only going for a few hours I don't need all that stuff'".  No matter how experienced you are, having essential items with you in an emergency situation is well worth the bit of added weight in your backpack.
  9. Always carry more than enough food and water with you.  Again, people often think they won't be gone that long so they may bring a snack or a lunch but in the case of an unexpected emergency when you need to hole up overnight, food, and more importantly in the desert, water, are critical for survival.  In the case of this missing hiker, it was reported that he probably didn't have much food with him.  And many times while hiking in the desert I have given water to people who came unprepared.
  10. Be ready to manage medical emergencies.  In the case of a fall or other sort of accident, carry a first aid kit for immediate care, and have an evacuation plan, just in case.  In the case of this hiker, it was reported that he had diabetes (I'm guessing type 1 based on his age and appearance) in which case he would have had to be extra aware of the need to mitigate blood sugar problems (their numbers tend to swing widely when undertaking strenuous exercise like hiking and every diabetic should always carry enough insulin/glucose tabs/food to manage blood sugar swings).
  11. Carry a battery pack with you to use to keep your cell phone charged.  Cell phones can be pinged by searchers but this doesn't work if the phone is dead.
  12. Don't panic if you get lost.  You can mitigate getting lost (map, compass, GPS, etc), and plan ahead for what to do if you get lost, but the simplest thing to do is to stop when you realize you are lost, and, in most cases, you can signal for help then sit back and wait for rescue (in this case where the area is pretty small and easily searchable, in other cases, trying to walk out may be a better option).
  13. When planning your hike, pay attention to any localized problems that could happen in the area you plan to hike.  Steep terrain with trails covered in scree is common where this hiker went missing.  The weather forecast is another thing to consider.  Rattlesnakes can be an issue in Red Rock Canyon but it is too cold for them to be a problem now.  Slot canyons, of which there are a few in this area, mixed with poor weather, can be deadly.  And also consider the time that the sun sets (early in this area, in the summer in northern areas it could be 9:30pm).
  14. Read wilderness survival stories when you come across them.  Both stories with successful endings as well as this story which had an unfortunate ending, can be informative and educational.
  15. Learn survival skills now, when you don't need them, so you will know what to do in a wilderness survival situation.

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