There are five things to remember before going outdoors. A recent news article discusses the rescue of an injured hiker in Colorado back in July. Jeffery Ashby is a retired NASA astronaut who decided to go on a high altitude hike by himself at Colorado’s La Plata Peak. He slipped and fell 500 feet down the mountain. The location where his fall stopped put him in an area that required an airlift rescue operation. Somewhere during the fall, he broke both of his legs. He survived his fall and injuries and was later rescued by a helicopter crew from the nearby Army National Guard aviation training center.
Jeff is a retired military person in excellent shape for being sixty-five years old. He was well prepared and familiar with the area he was hiking. However, July 16, 2019, would not be an average hike. The story reminds us that on any given day, we can find ourselves in an emergency survival situation in the backcountry.
Many people love to go outdoors for recreational purposes. The early fall season brings many hunters to the backcountry to hunt deer and elk. People are trying to get those last multi-day backpacking trips in before the snows come. Other people want to take that last weekend camping trip before the weather turns bad. Therefore, we should remember the following principles to help increase our chances of rescue in an outdoor emergency.
1. Get As Much Knowledge As Possible About Your Outdoor Location
It is advisable to do as much research to gain as much knowledge as possible about the place you intend to go for your outdoor activity. One possible way to accomplish this is to search for news stories about the desired location. For example, some areas have a concentration of incidents of missing people. Is this a place you want to go for an outdoor adventure?
Another way to gain knowledge about an area is to talk to the local park rangers. My son and I went hiking in a nearby state park. The park ranger informed me that there were only two of them working the park and rescue in an emergency would require an airlift. That was a great tip and could only be gained by talking to someone at the site. He also informed me that there are areas where rock slides occur. Again, great insight from someone working in the area.
2. Prepare Yourself and Your Gear
It needs to be said to remind you to prepare yourself and your gear before going into the wilderness. Jeff Ashby was ready for his adventure, and he still experienced an emergency survival situation. His preparation saved his life due to having a working headlamp. It was used as a signal device in the pre-dawn darkness to gain attention from other hikers passing by his location. If Jeff’s headlamp batteries were dead, he might not have gotten noticed and eventually rescued.
Preparing yourself also means knowing your physical and health limitations. My dad related a story about a man that he worked with who died of heart failure on a hunting trip. The hunter was not the epitome of physical fitness. He was walking on a slight incline for several miles, then fell dead from a heart attack, according to one of his hunting partners. Therefore, know if your physical fitness and health can handle a particular location, especially if the area is above eight thousand feet in elevation.
3. Develop and Distribute A Communication Plan
A third thing to remember is to develop and distribute your communication plan. In a previous article, I discussed the PACE method for preparing your gear. The acronym PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. It is a technique developed by infantry and special forces personal to create multiple ways to maintain communication with each other and their field headquarters. This method is an excellent tool to develop your communication plan.
Your communication plan should also include a timeline for checking in and to whom you will make those checks. For example, you may wish to send a text message to your designated recipients every two or three hours. Additionally, your communication plan should also include how to contact first responders, the park ranger station, and significant others, such as parents or your spouse. Once you have developed your communication plan, distribute it to those with whom you will communicate. Everyone in your group should have a copy of your communication plan in case you get separated.
Sample Communication Plan
4. Develop and Rehearse An Emergency Plan
After developing a communication plan, it is advisable to create and rehearse an emergency plan before you head out to the outdoors. Your emergency plan does not have to be elaborate and complicated. It can be as simple as developing a first option and a second option if things go wrong in the field. The emergency communication plan should be part of your planning process. Everyone in your group should be familiar with and understand the emergency plan before heading out to your chosen location.
One particular story that I read recently illustrates the need for developing and rehearsing an emergency plan. A group of hunters was hunting near Rainbow Lake in Colorado when a sudden blizzard hit the area. The hunters were separated at the time. Three of the four made it back to camp. When they realized one of their friends was missing, they went out again to look for him only to nearly succumb to the weather themselves. The story relates the need to develop and rehearse an emergency plan.
5. Avoid Going Outdoors Alone
One of the more important aspects of outdoor adventures is not going out alone, if at all possible. Hunters like to go off by themselves, even if they are with others. It is even more crucial that an emergency plan is in place when such a scenario exists. Backpackers and recreational hikers also like to go out alone. Many of the disappearances, mishaps, and fatalities in the outdoors occurs when the unfortunate ones are by themselves. The US Army sees the need for soldiers not to go anywhere by themselves and developed the battle buddy method to ensure the safety and security of soldiers. Experienced or recreational outdoorsmen should always have a partner when going into the outdoors.
The fall season can be an excellent time to spend outdoors. The changing color of the leaves and the crispness of the cold morning air make being outdoors all the more pleasant. Remembering to be safe and prepared increases your chances for a great time outdoors. Knowledge of your intended location, preparing yourself and your gear, developing a communication plan, developing an emergency plan, and going out with a partner or group will cut down on the chances of a mishap outdoors. As we enter the end of the year, let us enjoy our outdoor adventures with friends and family.