Use Your Head, Not Your Heart
Nature can be dangerous.
This simple fact can be lost in all the trending “glam camp” pictures online or rugged blog posts about the magic of finding oneself in the woods. Amidst the beautiful shots of sunrises, comfy gear, unique experiences and breathtaking views there are real threats to spending time outdoors. But all of them can be mitigated and if properly prepared most every outdoor experience will end safely.
According to The Boston Globe there were 1,023 official rescue efforts by New Hampshire officials from 2008 through 2014. Sixty percent of them were to assist hikers or climbers. On average, a rescue effort is needed every three days (including activities other than hiking and climbing). With increasing numbers hitting the Northeast every year for all kinds of outdoor pursuits, these numbers stand to only increase.
One key mantra to remember is nature, all things being equal, will always prevail. This applies to the daylight, weather or any other factor which is outside of anyone’s control no matter how well prepared. Going outdoors for extended periods of time and distance requires some measure of risk. But on balance, it’s more reasonable than most other activities people experience every week. Statistically, you’re more likely to be involved in an automobile crash than get injured or lost on a hike in the White Mountains. Keep that in mind. If you’re prepared, heading outside to seek some fresh air and adventure is relatively safe. But if you’re not, the risk of injury or worse increases dramatically.
Get proper gear for what you’re doing. Make sure you have the right footwear, layers, food supplies, water and everything else needed for whatever you’re planning on doing. There tons of online resources and books available for details about this crucial step. This is even more important depending on what season you’re tackling. Winter hiking is infinitely different than hitting the trails in July, requiring different gear, food supplies, water storage, the works. But you can get stranded any time of year. Many rescues involve those who underestimated the time of year they were outside and failed to prepare accordingly. Remember, whatever is happening outside your door is not the same as what will be underway at thousands of feet above in elevation. Check mountain forecasts and plan accordingly. Know your fitness levels (be honest!) and what you can reasonably handle for an outing. Get out and have fun but be aware of any limitations you may have or what the day may bring in terms of weather and your planned terrain.
Make a plan and be prepared to break it. If you’re headed out, know where you’re going and the lay of the land. Know the general mileage and elevation and if you bring a phone (strongly recommended) bring an extra charger, keep it on low battery settings and track where you’re going. Have a waterproof, hard copy map and compass in your pack (or keep a regular map in a plastic bag). Sometimes technology fails, especially the higher up you are. With an old school map and compass, you can determine a trail or direction with relative ease. Most important? Be ready to turn around if you think conditions warrant doing so. Weather can change very quickly or something can happen to you or someone in your group. There is no reason to risk injury or being stranded because you want to “push it some more” in the face of worsening conditions. It may be tempting to “just go” another thousand feet of elevation to the top but remember what that entails—you’re probably weakening, not getting stronger (no matter how you feel) and that thousand feet means two thousand because you have to return, too, doubling any distance you see in front of you. Let’s say you have another two miles to go to reach your planned destination. If you’re doing 35 minutes or so per mile, that’s over two hours in reality to complete. Figure that into your overall plan. Can you do it? It’s up to you but make the choice based on logical projections not what you feel at the moment or want to do because you simply must “stick to the plan”. You don’t. No sane or reasonable person says to someone getting rescued in the middle of dark on a cold night “well, at least you went for it!”
Let people know about your plans. Make sure someone knows you’re headed out and approximately what you have planned. This way, if you’re gone too long or need to reach out, someone is ready and can help guide help your way. They could be the difference of transportation getting to you earlier than later. Those who call in to be rescued often have to wait hours in order to be assisted. Remember, the trail you hiked has to be hiked by those rescuing you, also, and it takes time, even for veteran first responders. If you’re being rescued, it’s like the conditions are challenging, which means it will take them time to get to you. Have supplies and gear to keep you fed, hydrated and warm while you wait.
Getting outside is good in essentially every way possible so by all means, get out and enjoy yourself. Just be safe, pay attention and know your limits. If you plan properly and follow the safeguards above you should be in for a great time, one that’s inexpensive and comes with lasting benefits and memories.