Melbourne, Florida – October 22, 2014 – As cooler temperatures have arrived in central Florida, many Floridians will start to plan their winter vacations to mountains of North America. There are so many choices to pick from for skiing, hiking and mountaineering adventures it would be hard to pick a destination. So I will not be talking about destinations. Many of these outdoor enthusiasts have no experience in the back country and travel into the backcountry oblivious to the dangers that await them there. That being said, I will share with you my experience in being prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
My story begins back in the 1970 when the USAF stationed me at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska. As an avid backpacker where I honed my mountain skills along the mountain trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was in what some say is “Hog Heaven” for being lucky enough to have a three year tour in our 51st state.
While my family and I lived in Anchorage, I joined the Anchorage Alaska Rescue Group (ARG). This was a volunteer group of mountaineers who supported the Alaska Search and Rescue community any time an outdoors-man got lost in the Alaska back country. Because of my very limited experience in high altitude search and rescue, I became a support member. This enabled me to work at lower altitudes performing all sorts of tasks in support of the primary ARG climbers and mountaineers.
During my stint as a member of ARG, we got called out one year because a new school teacher from what Alaskans call the “Lower 48” was out on an afternoon hike in the mountains south of Anchorage during the winter and did not return back to his car. Because it was suspected that this person might have been caught up in an avalanche, the full ARG team we called the Mob was called out to search for this hiker.
To make a long story short, this newcomer to Alaska hiked in the snow to a point on a ridge that when it got dark he was in serious danger. Being able to seeing only the lights in the valley below, it was suspected that this hiker walked right into an avalanche prone area and triggered an avalanche. See my slide Show. It only took the Mob about two hours to find the body as the Mod walked shoulder to shoulder probing the snow pack at the bottom avalanche deposition zone. After the hiker’s body was uncovered, it was apparent that the hiker was not prepared for the Alaska winter. See slide show. Here is a short list of what the investigation uncovered.
• Did not give an itinerary of the trip to family member or a friend.
• The hiker was hiking alone.
• Know the area where you will be going.
• He was wearing a light jacket and boots not appropriate for the conditions he was experiencing.
• The hiker did not have day pack with emergency supplies and a flashlight or headlamp in case he was out after dark.
What are the lessons learned about planning you next trip to the mountains. We can easily answer the question by flipping what the investigation discovered.
• Always give an itinerary of you trip into the back county to family member or a friend.
• Do research into the areas where you will be going.
• Never hike alone in the mountains. There have been many national news stories over the years about hikers and skiers going it alone ending up dead.
• Dress appropriately for the conditions where you will be and be prepared for the worst. Your pack may be a little heavier but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Since the 1970s outdoor gear designers and manufacturers have been improving the safety gear one can take in to the mountains. Spot has a complete line of GPS tracker devices that can notify local authorities where you are to dispatch a search and rescue team. There are numerous avalanche transponders on the market that will pinpoint your location if you have been caught in an avalanche. There are also special backpacks which contain air bags that can be inflated to assist the person caught in an avalanche. Outdoor Gear Lab has a great article on this avalanche safety item.
Black Diamond has a new avalanche airbag for ski patrol and mountain rescue teams and outdoor adventurers who go out on mountain hut to hut trips called the Jetforce Avalanche Airbag Pack. This airbag was not one of those tested by Outdoor Gear Lab. It comes in three versions. The price range is $1,299.95 – $1,249.95. Here is the link to the Black Diamond Jetforce web page.
Before planning you next trip do some research and make an equipment list. Be sure you have the right kind of footwear for the terrain you will be traversing. There are many places where you can get expert advice and gear before you venture out. Online purveyors of outdoor gear like Backcountry and REI are places to start.
I have been a member of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) since 1973. When I joined there was only one store in Seattle. If you could not get to the REI store, you could order by mail order from their catalog using the U.S. Post Office. Today seventy-five and 129 stores later, REI has been helping outdoor sportsmen and women to be safe in the back country. REI has a great hiking list. Click HERE to see their list.
If you are interested in being a search and rescue volunteer, look for a S&R team in your community. The Mountain Rescue Association has teams in all the mountain regions in America and in Canada. If you are a rock climber or mountaineer, you might want to find a chapter and volunteer.
So before you leave home on that adventure of a life time, be prepared.
Until next time be safe in the sun and have a great day in the great outdoors.