Safety on the Trail
On a recent hike, we had a bit of a bad situation develop. We had just finished hiking the Chaumont Barrens trail and we had people asking if we’d seen an older (late sixties) couple. We had completed the entire two-mile trail and seen no-one resembling that description. The couple had gone hiking, and gotten off the trail (they had actually followed a game trail) and gotten lost. They had cell service, and had called a friend to come to the parking lot, and blow the horn to help orient themselves. They were unable to hear the horn. We (myself, and my wife and daughter) talked it over and decided that we would be the best option to find them. We gathered what information that we could- names, original direction of travel and such. I re-confirmed the travel direction of the road, by my compass, as a reference point in case of a long bushwhack. We traveled the trail, shouting every couple hundred yards. About a mile and a half from the trailhead- they answered our shouts. I had my wife stay on the trail to help guide us back if needed, and my daughter and I worked towards their voices. They were probably 500 yards off the trail, heading the wrong way, and in a swamp. This area is a very thick and hard to travel off trail in. Most places you could see less than 10-15 yards due to the foliage. The husband had some health issues (pre-existing), but with some helping hands we got them to the trail. I offered them a much-needed bottle of water and worked our way back to the trailhead. As we chatted, they mentioned that they had hiked here several times. They had no compass with them, and in fact left their handheld GPS in the car. They had taken no water or snacks with them. They said they usually carry all that but skipped it this time. Complacency can get you into a bad situation in a hurry. This turned out well for everyone – but it could easily have had a different ending. We didn’t start out expecting to lead a search & rescue mission any more than they expected to get lost. We were prepared and able to help. Travel the trails well prepared, someday you might be glad you did. These are just a few basic things that will help keep you safe.
- Carry a compass and know how to use it. Have an idea of your route’s direction of travel. Check your compass on occasion to keep track of your travels.
- Carry a map and familiarize yourself with some prominent landmarks in the area.
- If you have a trail style GPS – use it. There are many cellphone apps for GPS, but unless you have a strong constant signal, they don’t help much.
- Carry some water, snacks (we like protein bars) and a small basic first aid kit. Bring some matches or a lighter in a water tight baggie. Keep some toilet tissue in the baggie too. Besides the obvious use, it will work well as kindling to start a fire or dress a wound in an emergency.
- Dress accordingly, but keep a warm jacket or such in your pack. Down is a great insulator, and packs small & light. If it is during hunting season, wear conspicuous colors such as red or orange.
- Let someone know where you are going to hike, and an expected time frame. When I hike alone, I will (in advance) e-mail my wife the details, with a map and details of the route, and where I will be parking. I always send a text when I’m back to the car (when signal is available).
- Be realistic on your goals. We all have different abilities, and don’t undertake more than you can handle. Remember, when you reach your destination, that’s the halfway point. You still have to get back to the trailhead.
- If someone in your group gets lost (or someone hiking in the same area), make sure that you choose the right course of action. If you know the area and are prepared with the items above, maybe you can help. If not, you may end up lost as well, and that’s not helping anyone. Contact the authorities and let the trained professionals handle it.
- Have fun and be safe!