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Health & Fitness, Great Outdoors, Life

Here's what a search and rescue volunteer has to say about staying safe on the trails

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Sam Schonewille May 11, 2017 4:18 am 1,364

Hiking season is fast approaching, and after the crazy winter we’ve just experienced local search and rescue workers are in serious need of a little relief.

After a string of strenuous rescues over the snowbound months, volunteers are gearing up for another busy season as hikers get ready to hit the trails. As the weather warms up more and more people will begin exploring beautiful British Columbia, but unfortunately many of them will be unprepared for what faces them in the great outdoors.

So to help you get ready for hiking season, we spoke with local search and rescue volunteer Grant Moshonas to find out what hikers can do to stay safe on the trails.

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What does a typical rescue look like?

A normal rescue? There isn’t such a situation. Every rescue is different and more than likely, each rescue will be different than that of the last call and the next one.

On a trail rescue, someone is either lost on a trail or, hurt somewhere along it. If someone is lost, we utilise a Rapid Response Team that will surge the common trails on foot to rule out the more likely locations where the hiker could be. This team is responsible for reporting back to command whether or not they see signs of the lost hiker and we act accordingly. If they’re just lost then, the Rapid Response Team will bring them back down, however, if they’re hurt then they’ll perform 1st aid and radio command the subject’s condition, and we act accordingly. We wouldn’t bring a stretcher if we didn’t need it.

If we have to find someone, it can take several days. Multiple teams get called in for mutual aid, and it’s exhausting for everyone involved. If we know where they are and they are injured, we can package them up within minutes for Rapid Transit. If it’s life threatening and we can’t bring them to an ambulance in time, we call in a helicopter to aid in our extraction.

What’s the most common mistake hikers make?

Hiker / Shutterstock

Going out unprepared. I’m not talking about just gear here, but going unprepared with respect to the knowledge of the area in which they plan to hike. A hike can turn for the worse mighty quickly, and without proper gear and expertise, it can become a lethal adventure.

Many times I will be hiking and will see someone scrambling up a ridge or trekking through a greasy section of trail with nothing more than jeans and basketball shoes – gear not intended to be used for that particular activity. You usually see people with nothing but a bottle of water and their cell phone. It’s a good try but still not good enough.

For the upcoming spring season what dangers should hikers be wary of on the trails?

Image: Hiking / Shutterstock

Depending on where you hike, dangers can vary. But, typically springtime will present a lot of dangers in many forms. For many, spring is the beginning of the hiking season which means getting out on those rusty hiking legs. It’s important to limber up before tackling any trail let alone a trail that is strenuous.

Furthermore, spring can get people into avalanche zones. Whether it’s the misconception of beautiful weather or just the lack of knowledge, avalanches pose a real risk this time of year for anyone looking to journey in the backcountry. With snow melting above, a lot of water is present which also means slick conditions and higher levels of rivers that can sweep anyone off their feet.

How do you think people can use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to stay safe on the trails?

Social media is working wonders. It’s connecting people together more than ever and with that, comes the ease of sharing information with one another. For instance, you get a lot of people on Facebook various groups asking questions about what to bring hiking, what to wear, what to buy, how to get to trail heads, and how not to get lost on trails.

It’s easy to ask and easy to get answers as the community is so saturated. I belong to a lot of hiking and adventure groups and one thing I see a lot is discussion on safety, tips, and local precautions.

What are the 10 essentials hikers should pack, and why are they important?

Hiking in BC (Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock)

Hiking in BC (Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock)

Flashlight

Not only is this handy for seeing where you are going at night but, it’s also a great tool to have so that you can increase your visibility at night if lost.

Whistle

A whistle is a lot louder than your voice can ever be. A few blasts will surely get the attention of anyone even if they are across a valley. Keep it close and attach it to your zipper should you find yourself in a state where you experience a serious fall.

Waterproof matches/lighter

One of the biggest killers when getting lost is hypothermia. A 20°C afternoon hike can very easily lead to a sub-zero evening and without a way of staying warm, succumbing to hypothermia is a real anger. Keep your matches close and know how to use them.

Candle

A simple tea-light candle can provide enough heat to keep you alive when it’s very cold out. Pair it with an emergency shelter, and you can be relatively comfortable even in sub-zero temperatures.

Utility knife

Excellent for creating kindling, cutting rope for a shelter or cutting into an apple – a utility knife is an ideal companion to have when the going is good or bad.

Large orange plastic bag

This can serve many purposes. A lot of hiking gear nowadays is earth toned which means it can often be difficult to spot, orange, on the other hand, will stand out. The plastic bag also doubles as a rain poncho and shelter. It packs light and serves many purposes – win, win, win.

Water and food

The longer your hike, the more you are going to need to consume. Always pack extra in the event you find yourself socked in for the night.

Extra clothes

Not just extra clothes, but proper extra clothes. No cotton. Cotton is great at soaking up water, where items like wool and synthetics are great at keeping you warm. Even if wool gets wet, it will still keep its loft and keep you warm.

First aid kit

If you hike a lot, an injury is bound to happen sooner or later to either you or your companion. Know how to use each and every single item and be fluent with how to perform proper first aid. A lot can happen in the backcountry – I try and advocate people taking basic wilderness first aid. It could save you or somebody else’s life.

Map and compass 

You can be a great hiker, fit, well travelled and have all the right gear. If you are following the trail, everything will more than likely go as planned. But, if all of a sudden you are not on the right trail anymore and you end up disoriented, you are going to need to figure out exactly where you are.

A map and compass are important for this very reason. If properly used, they can be more reliable and just as accurate as a GPS and best of all – they don’t run on batteries.


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Sam Schonewille
Hiker, runner, and amateur climber following the call to the great outdoors. You can follow Samantha’s adventures on Instagram @outdorphins.

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