Getting into the wild? Plan ahead

By Carolyn Dean

Each year hundreds of people take to nature to de-stress, reconnect, and enjoy Vermont’s short summer season. While most will return with gratifying memories, a few will have an experience that will make them think twice before wandering into the woods again.

Becoming lost, stranded, or injured in the woods is a serious concern for outdoor enthusiasts as well as for the search and rescue teams who are dispatched to help them. Let’s face it, no one ever intends to get lost or injured. Planning your hike often focuses on points of interest rather than making sure you have packed your first aid kit. Unfortunately, these seemingly small oversights can be your downfall when things don’t go as planned.

Having responded to 30 incidents so far this year, Neil Van Dyke of Vermont Search and Rescue knows this all too well.

“Just because it’s 9 a.m. on a warm sunny day doesn’t mean you may not have to deal with dark, cold and wet weather,” said VanDyke. “The numbers of people who become lost or stranded need not have if they had been properly prepared.”

Back in the 1930s a Seattle climbing group known as The Mountaineers set down ten essentials for all outdoor enthusiasts to reference. Their book, “Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills” (2010; eighth edition), is still considered a “must have” for outdoorsmen all over the world.

The 10 Essential Systems are:

Navigation: topo maps, compass

Sun protection

Insulation: extra clothing

Illumination: headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries

First-aid supplies

Fire: waterproof matches, candle, or lighter

Repair kit, including knife

Nutrition: extra food

Hydration: extra water

Emergency shelter: tent, plastic tube tent, garbage bag

In addition to the 10 Essentials, The Mountaineers have also created two questions that need to be answered before venturing out into the wilderness: first, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? and second, can you safely spend a night outside? If you are unable to answer these with assurance, you are not prepared, they say.

Although many argue that the essentials will slow you down, you will survive to pursue your goal another day.

Douglas Veliko of Stowe Mountain Rescue urges people to be honest about their capabilities. “A mile walk in a rural area is not equivalent to a mile hike up a mountain with 1,000 feet of elevation gain… Most injuries occur when the subject is overly fatigued.”

Veliko also says, “Pay close attention to weather reports prior to leaving, let a third party know where you are going and when you plan to return.”

Search and rescue teams encourage you to always be prepared, but to call for help if you need it. Do not be dissuaded by fear of costs or embarrassment until it is too late or more risky for search and rescue workers to find you. The state of Vermont does not charge for these efforts and members are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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