Been a while since i have blogged about SOTA but I have still been getting out there (365 points so far this year). Part of that time though has also seen the usual increase in SAR activity. For those that do not know I am a member of a SAR team located in the Sierra Nevada. So this is going to be a soapbox post, more for the general public then for SOTA people, and most SOTA people seem to be in the know and I hope they are in the know! Still think this is worth talking about though as a nice break from a SOTA trip report
When you read an article in your paper/online whatever and it says “hey go check out this NOVICE trail” do a bit more search then what that article supplies. We’ve had 5 SARS in the past month at a trailhead we maybe see 1 SAR in a year at that this was a direct contributing factor. Oh I’ll pick on more subjects then just these 5, but we’re going to start here! It was nice that some local paper/news outlet/whatever covered a trail to help get some exposure for it (or maybe not since increased use means increased damage) but that should not be the end of it from a research perspective. In the case of this trail maybe ask yourself some other questions like… “This is in the Sierra, what is the elevation, have I ever hiked at this elevation before?” Will my cellphone and google maps/alltrails/gaia GPS/whatever map app you use be enough in an area that probably does not have cell coverage? Have I left a plan with someone? That is the one that most people miss. They do not leave a plan. What supplies will I need? sure it’s warm during the day, but at night, when it’s 50, 40, or even down to 30 degrees, if I do end up being over due will I be warm? Which leads me to my next question, do I have a light? do I have food, enough water, or a way to treat water if I pull it from the streams? That water may look cool, clear and tasty, but chances are if it’s in the mountains it’s probably had some marmot fecal matter in it, or donkey/horse where trail crews use pack animals to take supplies in etc. Unless you want to lose 20-30 pounds FAST, do not drink the water untreated!!! I will not recommend any product or what to carry beyond perhaps consult the 10 essentials. Oh and also, IF you are taking your pup figure out things like what is the longest hike I have taken my dog on? Have I ever had my pup walk on Sierra Granite? Maybe I need shoes for my dog? SAR teams technically are not allowed to rescue animals, some districts may try and fudge it via some other various justification like “the owner was not going to leave the animal, so the owner was going to put his/herself in harm”. Be advised too that if a SAR team comes to help you with your four-legged friend, IF animal services/Humane Society/whatever happens to be in tow there is a chance you might get cited for animal negligence (yes I have seen this happen first hand. That owner started crying b/c of the overall ordeal and this last minute surprise). Sorry but as an animal lover, I concur with AS’s action in this case. The owner should have known better. ” stated they had never heard of shoes for a dog”
So back on the weather angle for a second, and I think I have ranted on this particular group of subjects in the past, but the employees from a large technology company who own a mapping division who thought it would be a great idea to go bag a 9000 foot peak in the Sierras in January. They had nothing more then 2 16oz bottles of water each, no food, blue jeans, their company schotzky jackets, and IIRC one individual of that group of three was actually wearing canvas VANs shoes. If I really need to explain even a few things that are wrong in the above, do yourself (and your local SAR teams) a favor, and stay on the couch. Sorry if I am sounding elitist, but I’ve seen enough folks not using the massive lump of gray material between their ears that just asking themselves a few basic questions would have saved themselves some possible embarrassment..
So what I will recommend is that you at least understand what the 10 essentials are. I have heard a few people often refer to this as “some arbitrary list that does no good” and well there is some truth to that statement IF you do not know how to effectively use the items, you can technically survive for a few days with just these supplies.
What are the 10 essentials? https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm
A Pack while not on the list, is needed for carrying this stuff, so might as well put this at the top of the list. They also do not list some sort of knife (I call out a multi-tool below) but I can do more with a 4 inch full tang blade for survival then I can with a multi-tool. (Full tang means the entire length of the knife is a single chunk of steel, it’s not a folding knife etc). If you have to cut on trees to build a shelter you will end up possibly breaking a folding knife etc.).
Navigation: A cell phone alone will not cut it. Even with external battery/recharge capabilities, you are going to be in some areas where you may not have access to a cell tower. (Sometimes you do need Data to pull that map down). A GPS unit, or even just a paper map is a good back up. For you weight weenies out there, paper is pretty darn light.. The important thing here is whatever your nav method, KNOW HOW TO USE IT, or it is basically trash in your pack.
SUN PROTECTION: Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses etc. This is pretty self explanatory, and I’d almost say the sunglasses are more important in winter then summer.
INSULATION – Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear: The weather report may say “0% chance of rain and sunny” but the mountain does not always listen to the weather forecasters. The mountains are capable of making their own weather, and storms can come up out of no where. Even in the Sierras in the middle of July it can snow at night and if you are out there with nothing more then shorts and a t-shirt, you are going to have a long, cold, miserable night.
Illumination: Another one of those “and your cell phone alone will not cut it” items. I remember once i was backpacking somewhere and I was on a nearby peak to my campsite. It was nearly sunset (I had run up to watch sunset) and this group of 6 day hikers were just making the summit obviously very tired. They asked me “how long will it take us to go down?” I replied with “45 minutes quicker then it took you to go up” (which is true for most people). I could see that did not settle well with them, and I went into the “and you have a light and warm clothes? it gets cold and dark up here”. Hit our SAR coordinator via the radio on my way back down the trail to my camp.
First Aid Supplies: This does not need to be that exhaustive; mole skin, some aspirin, some bandaids etc..basic first aid you might keep in your house. Not looking for you to be carrying SAM splints and being able to reset a dislocation here, just enough to deal with the minor discomforts that can happen.
Fire: This is one of those, that depending on where you live, I hesitate to say “be able to make a fire AND control it”. Over the past few years fires in the backcountry end up being banned in a lot of the western states during late summer/fall. Reality is, if you have a jacket, and the rest of the stuff on the list you can go without a fire. While I do love a good campfire I’d rather my house be standing then burned down from a wildfire I caused while trying to stay warm while lost. The Cedar Fire (2003, San Diego) and Rim Fire (Groveland/Yosemite 2013) which is the 5th largest in CA history as well as many others were all started by individuals who were lost and cold, and their fires got out of control. There are others but most folks will have heard of these (if they live in California). Again, I’ll re-iterate, if the fire danger is anything but Green/Low use your clothing layers that are in this list and skip the fire. Winter, by all means do what you can to stay warm.
REPAIR KIT AND TOOLS – Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors: A multi-tool is enough there, and if you happen to use trekking poles, that is a great way to hold duct tape for emergency use.
NUTRITION – Food: You may only think you are heading out for a couple of hours, but part of being out there is enjoying nature and taking some time, so might as well have enough food to last you 24 hours just in case, besides a salami and cheese tastes great when hanging by that alpine lake. Sure we can go 5 days without eating, but if it’s cold out, you’ll stay warmer if you have some extra calories, even something as simple as a few extra trail bars can make a difference.
HYDRATION – Water and water treatment supplies: I think I ranted on this above, just because that water looks clean does not mean it is. Giardia, Cryptosporidia etc. They all exist in our water. If your destination is a popular one, you can believe your water will be contaminated with something.
EMERGENCY SHELTER – Tent, space blanket, tarp, and bivy: This can be anything from a Bothy bag, to the emergency blankets that are the size a deck of cards, reality is, if you have your emergency clothing listed above, you can survive the night (unless you are stuck in torrential rain/heavy snow).
That is the list of things that most backcountry travelers will tell you you cannot live without (with the exception of building a campfire if in a high fire danger area). However it is one thing to carry it, it’s totally another thing to know how to use it when it’s time. So take the time to understand what you are carrying and why.
So when you get to that trailhead, it’s worth it to sign the permit/log book on where you plan on hiking. SAR teams do have access to the permit box/log. Heck I was in the backcountry once when a wildfire broke out, and because the NPS had my travel plans on the permit, they used that to call my cell phone (which I was not carrying on that trip) and leave a message asking me to call them when I got out of the BC. We have done similar. Since that time, I now carry a radio, and I do have it open on part 90 frequencies so I can listen to fire crews in the field, and if needed get beta on where I need to go to stay safe. (as an amateur radio operator I would never advise anyone to just pick up a radio and start yelling into the microphone beyond to say “do what you have to do to ensure the security of human life and limb”). The FCC is not going to fine you if you found someone injured and called “SOS” on whatever frequency they might have programmed in.
While I am at it, I might as well mention and IF you do get lost, STAY PUT! There is a wonderful thing that is being taught to kids now: “If you get lost ‘S.T.O.P’ Stop. Think. Observe. Plan. If you did leave your plan with someone, and you are not that far off your intended path by staying put we will be able to find you quicker.
Good luck and enjoy the nature, be safe, be prepared and PLEASE LEAVE NO TRACE!