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Shared responsibility for search and rescue

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  • Shared responsibility for search and rescue

    It doesn't sound like a huge ask but good luck getting people "to accurately assess their ability, their preparedness, and their goals."

    We have discussed preparedness over and over and over on the forum through the years but rarely discuss ability and goals unless we happen to be dissecting a rescue story. I think those two are the hardest for the average hiker to judge. Folks who are unprepared never know it. Too much goes into being prepared for the unprepared to even grasp. You could ask them if they were prepared and I'm guessing the vast majority would say yes even though they haven't given it more than a cursory thought. I have some water, my phone, a few snacks, maybe a jacket, and I'm wearing some type of athletic footwear... I'm good to go. No thought to the other essentials or route planning, map prep, bailout spots, turnaround times, etc. 99.99% of hikes go just fine without any of that anyway. That's not to say it shouldn't be done as I don't think anybody wants to be the one that loses their life by failure to do so but I just don't believe a lot of people think about it. And getting them to do so would take a huge education effort that would likely take years and years to make any headway.

    So back to ability and goals. I think most people overestimate their own ability. There's probably very few folks out hiking on any given day who haven't at least thought, "Can I make it to the summit?" before setting foot on the trail. That's barely enough thought. Does anybody accurately assess their own ability before attempting a hike or is it our nature to lie to ourselves? I try to be honest. As mainly a solo hiker I try to ensure that I'm not biting off more than I can chew on any given hike but that all but eliminates me ever stepping near my limit or pushing myself past where I think I can go. Out of an abundance of caution I try to stay within my ability/fitness on any given day. And to take a dose of reality, I am in my mid-50's with a few chronic injuries that preclude me from pursuing an "epic" hike without risking a layoff due to aggravating those injuries. As a younger man I would have never thought about my ability. I just would have gone on those type of hikes. So I ask again, does anybody accurately assess their own ability? I think it's hard. You see your out-of-shape co-worker or unathletic cousin out hiking and figure you can do the same or better. You see friends posting pics from hikes on Facebook and figure you are no different. I suppose that's a way of assessing your ability... if they can do it I can too. But that's not being 100% honest with yourself. What is your true ability? Here's the rub... you don't know until you get out and try. You don't know if you can get up that mountain until you walk up that mountain.

    Lastly, goals. I suppose that ties in with ability as why would you set goals that are beyond your ability? Or if you aren't a planner/prepper is defining goals within your ability more difficult? I'm not sure. Problem is, sometimes the goals aren't even your own. You end up in a group on a hike that somebody else has planned and you're along for the ride. They wouldn't have asked you to come unless they thought you could complete the hike, right? But that's somebody else assessing your ability, not you. And nobody wants to be the one missing out on the fun or the downer of the group who wants to dial back the goals. Individual goals are great and go hand-in-hand with ability but when group dynamics take over there's other forces at play.

    Thoughts? It's a good topic that probably doesn't have a whole lot of practical solutions. Either you are a planner or you are not. Either you can honestly assess your own ability and goals or you can't. What can we do to assist others in making these assessments?

  • #2
    I totally agree with everything you said I feel that research is very important and not being afraid to ask questions. This forum alone has a wealth of knowledge that can help anyone who is unsure or not familiar with the High peaks region.


    • #3
      I think some of people's problems are getting bad advice. Maybe 10 or 20%.

      On facebook I constantly see people asking for advice or giving advice without any thought to a mismatch of people's abilities.

      This can be a bad.

      Its obvious that people are asking "Just how do you do that trap dike hike?" and getting answers! But the people executing those answers have no business being there.

      I just saw someone last night say a good trip would be. Backpack to Feldspar and climb Skylight and Gray, Next day climb Cliff and Redfield, the Next day climb 2 more peaks I can't remember on the way out. This would be a killer hike.
      Leave No Trace!


      • #4
        Good discussion, but it's just more of the same thing that's been said in a thousand places for years.

        >Just talking about it gets nothing done. It's all been said before.

        >Trying to put "Hike Safe" type information on line where "hikers will see it when they plan their hike" gets nothing done. Most of the people who get in trouble don't really plan. And if they do look online to try to plan, any "Hike Safe" information from some government or organization on its website that gets 100 hits / month is totally overwhelmed by bad advice and self aggrandizing selfies that dominate the space.

        There are only two things that will reduce SAR events:

        1. Front Country Stewards (full time, paid by the state) at all the major trail heads, actually meeting hikers and discussing their goals and preparedness. This is what Pete Fish used to do years ago at the Loj, and I am certain that he prevented hundreds of rescues. And this is what the 46ers have done with volunteers at Cascade, and the Town of Keene has done with a couple Front Country Stewards. It has been documented to be effective.

        But the State refuses to hire and place these resources. The Town's Front Country Stewards are partly funded by a MICROSCOPIC state grant ($90,000). It's good that we were able to wring at least that tiny amount of money from Albany, but on the "state scale" it's such a small investment compared to what's needed that it's almost insulting.

        2. Start charging for rescues. Of course this topic has been beaten to death for years. There are lots of voices out at the far ends of the discussion. Input such as "Charge all the Canadians" or "Charge all the out-of-staters" is just jingoistic noise. And on the other end, the input that says "You can't charge anyone, or people will stop calling for help" is just SAR groups trying to make sure they get a regular budget from Government.

        But there are middle ground possibilities here. Here are a couple, which I have tossed out in the past in various threads on various forums:

        Here's one:

        >Charge everyone $100. Or maybe $250. Without regard to whether they did things right or wrong, were reckless or just unfortunate victims. The advantage of this is it might be enough to keep someone from calling for something frivolous, but it's not enough to keep someone from calling or something serious. The other advantage is by charging everyone, you stay out of "we have to investigate how this happened, and we know this is going to end up in court."

        Here's another:

        >Select ONE thing to be the "emphasis item" for the year. A very easy one is lights. Did the rescue take place because the party did not bring lights? Then they get charged. Maybe a lot, like $1000, or even the full cost of the rescue. The advantage of this is that it is simple to show, and you don't get into a blurry analysis of whether the people were exceeding their abilities, or how hot was it that day, or what shoes were they wearing, etc. which is mostly all opinion and can never support a charge. A few examples might make people at least think about this one simple thing, and prevent some rescues.


        • #5
          Hiked Colden with friends a couple weeks back. Claudia and I were surprised to see people climbing the old slide -- the slide that you shouldn't get onto early as in the article.

          We had climbed the 1990 slide and one of our fellow climbers mentioned his hiking shoe selection was swayed by the guy at the store mentioning that he'd use the model on 7 Trap Dike climbs. He had what appeared to be trail runners. I wear 5-10 approach shoes.

          So perhaps climbs in the Trap Dike have become a popular route. Not saying I agree, disagree, this should be, should not be. Just trying to reason out why an incidents like this occur.



          • h96s99
            h96s99 commented
            Editing a comment
            I’ve climbed the trap dike many times. The character and risk profile of the climb changed materially post-Irene. Add to that the proliferation of on-line resources that often convince people they can do things they shouldn’t be doing and you have a bad recipe.

            Two years ago I watched a father take his 11 year old daughter up the waterfall section. No rope. He was above her. It was very uncomfortable to witness. He spoke with me later that day, deconstructing his experience and acknowledging he made a bad mistake. Lesson learned, I hope, at least in this one case.

          • Hear the Footsteps
            Hear the Footsteps commented
            Editing a comment
            I never climbed the old way. One of our climbing partners that day was the most surprised because the new slide is so much better in my regular climbing partners experience and opinion.

            I have climbed the whole thing Post Irene twice. Never had a climbing partner I could take. Now I do. I've also climbed just the new slide above the trap dike two more times. The climbing partner had dropped in below the col thinking it was on the way to Otis' Gully one time before I would go too. The first time I went, I think about a year ago, it was a bushwhack. Second time, which was on the day we climbed the 1990 slide couple weeks back, there was distinct herd path except where there were a couple of non threatening little waterfall drops. Meaning: Others have found this and are taking just the slide now.

          • h96s99
            h96s99 commented
            Editing a comment
            It’s interesting to hear that people are now accessing just the slide from the col. I didn’t know that.

            I agree that the new slide is better than the old one. Aside from the easier access, it feels more dramatic and the unweathered rock is certainly more grippy.

        • #6
          I've been on a SAR team and crew boss for a long time, approaching 20 years too soon. We used to get called out a lot for searches. Many times each season. These days it is almost frustrating to hold a team together, due to lack of... shall I say.."excitement and activity". It has been a couple of years since we had what rangers refer to as a large "campaign" SAR incident, requiring management of dozens of volunteer searchers at an incident site from throughout the state. The last one being what ended up being determined a suicide in the woods not far from Paul Smiths two years ago. Last weekend there was an official callout to volunteers to look for a missing 94yr old Alzheimers patient, A WWII veteran near the VT border. The call came in after 1600, when by then he had been missing in the heat for almost a full 24 hrs. I first had to head home from where I was in camp to get ready. I began the process of getting my gear and maps together prior to the 3 hr drive for me to leave from home at 0400 in the morning, as they expected teams to show up at first light. But, as sometimes happens in these cases, nearby early arrival searchers found the man (unfortunately too late) and I got the call to stand down just as I was going to bed for a couple of hours of sleep before the long drive to the site. In recent past years, all that teams seem to get called for is Alzheimers wanderers and a few determined deep woods suicides. Calls for lost hiker or hunter incidents are an almost forgotten rarity.

          The advent of "smart" cell phones with integrated GPS has changed things a lot for those "routine" lost person or injured or overdue hiker SAR incidents. Which I guess is a good thing overall. If the rangers can make a successful contact and extraction within a couple of hours, as they usually do, then there is no need to energize and contact the state volunteer SAR system. If the incident is expected to go into the "second operational period" (meaning more than overnight), then they consider activating the volunteer SAR teams with much overnight planning function necessary. Talk to rangers like Scott V., Kevin Burns, or other veterans and they will tell that in years past they wold look for lost persons in deep woods first along drainages and lower elevations because they would head down in the expectation that drainages eventually lead to water courses and the way out. But in recent years that has changed to people going higher in order to get a better cell signal. Maybe that is how the inexperienced get themselves off trail and lost so easily. I've heard excuses like and "I got tired, so could you please send a helicopter to get me out?" and "isn't that what rangers are paid for anyway?"

          Just look at the weekly ranger reports and you will see a common mix of "lower leg injuries" (maybe due to combinations of bad luck, crucial mistakes, and inadequate footwear or inexperience with abilities), and people simply losing the trail. There are too many showing up with failure to have lighting after dark and needing help to get out of the woods at night. "But my cell phone has a flashlight on it, that is my night light". Just another failure to adequately plan.

          Fewer times these days do people get "lost" and become overdue without having told someone else when to expect them to come out. Another good thing. I wonder what happened to days past, like back when I was leaning, mostly being self taught by traditional methods, to do true pre-trip map study, and when I got "mixed up" with where I am and how I got there. The plan at that point was to sit down, bring out a sandwich and a map, and to look around at my surroundings to determine how I got to where I am and what the next plan of action should be for self extraction. And learning. It always worked for me, never would have had to call anyone even if cell had existed (which it didn't).
          "Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before." - Alexander Graham Bell


          • #7
            Preparation. This is why I’ve hiked 17 non-high peak summits this year; I want to be sure of my capabilities. I’m constantly comparing distance and elevation gain between hikes I’ve accomplished and hikes I plan to do.
            Beyond that, having the right equipment is pretty cut and dry. What are your basic necessities, and what do you need to have/do to ensure you can complete your task? I know I’m preaching to a choir full of preachers.
            Eh, lots of different people out there. You can’t stop some people from being so flawed that their flaws have a negative impact on others. Life goes on.


            • #8
              It was pointed out on SVR's twitter that the Dike is listed as a "Hiking Trail" on All Trails.
              Numerous people pointed out that it is not a trail but rather a technical climb.
              Someone tagged All Trails and they actually responded by saying they will look into removing the route from their app.


              • Hear the Footsteps
                Hear the Footsteps commented
                Editing a comment
                Just a comment on Moderately Trafficked. To me that means a lot. Wonder what the Alltrails uses as a yardstick to gauge frequency of travel on routes. Last time I climbed our group was lucky to be enough to be ahead of a couple other groups. We wanted elbow room when we climbed the technical part.
                Last edited by Hear the Footsteps; 07-29-2020, 12:07 PM.

              • FlyFishingandBeer
                FlyFishingandBeer commented
                Editing a comment
                Better yet, maybe get the word out that people should stop using AllTrails entirely in this region. What percentage of SAR AARs each year mention some usage of that app when the person found themselves not where they intended to be? 30%? 50%? At this point people aren't getting home safe because of it, they're doing so in spite of it.

              • Learning The Trails
                Learning The Trails commented
                Editing a comment
                I agree with HTF and FFB.

                Moderately trafficked makes it sound like it's a normal route. People will disregard the other warnings because they're already used to hearing "hiking the high peaks is hard."

                Signs and trailhead stewards discouraging the use of All Trails and other apps would be good... Though, I'm sure many will ignore them.

                I used to like All Trails. But, got over that quick.
                It's not bad for getting ideas of where to hike... But, it shouldn't be used as a resource for trip planning.

            • #9
              “We can’t ignore that this area is equivalent to National Park any longer." Carefully worded but very debatable.

              Regardless of the amount or lack thereof in terms of gear a person packs, the vast majority of preparedness is what's in their head and heart. Are they fit enough to complete the trip, and what skills do they possess to avoid incidences in the first place? The 10 essentials aren't going to do a bit of good if the person relying on them doesn't understand their practical applications when things go wrong, or worse yet, when that person thinks that stuffing them into a backpack will prevent things from going wrong. Yes, a headlamp and jacket can help prevent mechanical injury and hypothermia if somebody gets stuck on a route after dark, but these items didn't help them make it back to their car in daylight and didn't prevent their wife/dad/girlfriend/lonely dog from making a call to the DEC to trigger the SAR event.

              It appears that nobody can argue that SARs are going up because more unprepared hikers are in the woods, but this huge influx isn’t happening in every public land space in the state. While anecdotal, my local parks have been relatively quiet lately compared to usual. So what’s the draw in the High Peaks? What’s attracting the type of person who won’t self-rescue but will climb back up a peak for better cell service so they can use a Blackhawk as their personal Uber? This is what needs to be addressed. Oh, and anyone who can self-rescue or chooses not to, or could have avoided getting lost but chose to navigate via cell phone should be charged for the SAR. I don’t agree with SVL’s statement about the ADK being equitable to a NP, but I can certainly empathize with his level of frustration.

              Don’t be afraid to call people out. You don’t have to be a D about it, but don’t avoid a situation that could save lives and/or SAR man power later on just because it’s easier to let the current situation go. If somebody asks for directions or “is this the way to get to___,” instead of “yes” try responding casually and non-accusatorily with something like “grab your map and let’s what we’re looking at.” If they don’t immediately produce a map, you both know they screwed up. Then you produce your own map, ask where they started from, and show them their entire route and indicate their cardinal direction of travel. I usually take a quick mental note of their group size, clothing, and obvious gear. Simple encounters handled appropriately do not have to make anyone feel judged or alienated and may end up saving that person’s life.
              My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.


              • #10
                Well if they can climb back up to figure out where they are, let them walk out from there...or charge them accordingly for a non-necessary rescue. A few $10,000.00 rescues might bring awareness.


                • #11
                  Ok. So speaking of maps, and map study, and research, and preparedness, and way too much reliance on gps and phone...

                  On saturday i climbed Macnaughton up its brook from the west, and camped out at the designated site on Upper Preston Pond to really have time to enjoy the trip as thoroughly as possible.
                  I have researched this hike for so many hours, from many sources and websites and especially this forum, and studied my bearings to the ridge from high and low on the brook as well as the possible return routes. i had backups of so many things in so many ways, and prepared more for this trip than any other before actually rolling out the driveway this past saturday. And it went so much more beautifully than i expected possible. Hardest but most rewarding mountain and area i have been to so far without doubt. Anyway...

                  Here is the SAR-related kicker....On sunday morning on the trails, i met a family duo who were surprised to see anyone out by Henderson Lake lean-to (still a few miles from the preston pond site, and some distance further still from macnaughton brook by the other designated site where the real adventure just gets started), and it turned out they were going for MacNaughton via Hunter Pond area also.
                  After hearing i summited the previous day, they immediately asked "is the herdpath there?" ....And i paused....and my answer was "do you have a map and compass?"....and the answer "Well we have GPS..."...They said they had done Grace up the Bouquet valley, and "if its anything like that it shouldnt be too bad.." And i interrupted and said "its not like the Bouquet, and its most likely like nothing you ever seen. The bouquet herdpath is a highway with guardrails compared to anything you will find a couple hundred yards past that campsite". After speaking for a few minutes we went our separate ways, and i was hoping i successfully dissuaded them from making a serious attempt up the brook, as there was no herdpath for them and no safety net other than the rangers already in uniform or at their homes on sunday morning with either a chopper flight or hours of marching full rescue packs to a remote wicked bushwhack between them and the ladies. I had a bunch of flagging in my pockets that i had picked the previous day on my way up, i dont remember if i told the duo that bit.

                  I was hoping to meet an AFR or ranger the next few hours on the trails sunday morning to give them a heads up about the attempt from Macnaughton's west relying so heavily on a pretty much non-existent herdpath and gps, i didnt see anyone to give notice, but luckily when i signed out hours later i looked through the log and saw they had already signed out, with the added "could not find the herdpath"...
                  They didnt say the actual words "alltrails", and didnt literally admit to not having a map and compass, but they might as well have done both.

                  GPS and cell phones, ugh. I agree with so much said above, but going further on what TCD said, my dream is that every possible major trailhead becomes 24 hr paid parking with an attendant, raising money for the wilderness, and at the same time the steward or afr or ranger at the booth will not allow admittance if you cant answer basic knowledge questions and present your map/compass/headlamp/fluids/fuel/proper attire/etc. Ok, thats not realistic, but i did say "dream".

                  Just out of curiousity, did the duo maybe see talk of MacNaughton's brook "herdpath" from a facebook page or some other social media? Definitely wasn't from this forum anytime recently, or the other usual good sources.
                  "...don't assume you can't do it...we all make mistakes and sometimes fail. Keep working and learning, and be committed to improving fitness, and there is no limit to what you can do." Joe Bogardus
                  "I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all." Ernest Shackleton


                  • Eddie Fournier
                    Eddie Fournier commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I know it gets bad press here, but Alltrails Pro can be a very powerful tool when used wisely (with backup map, compass & knowledge). You can use it in airplane mode. You can print very detailed maps from different sources (including OSM) and you can overlay heat maps showing where people actually walked even if there is no herdpath - I pulled out the one for MacNaughton and there is a clear "consensus" that shows on the Western approach. But I highly suspect that most people just use the free version, which IMO is close to worthless in the wilderness.

                • #12
                  The phenomenon of 'false positives' often plays heavily into the unpreparedness equation.

                  A person gets the chance to hike Cascade from 73 on a mild day with a steady stream of hikers along the route in both directions clearly showing the way with nothing more than a bottle of Coke and a candy bar from Stewart's. They have a great time. They see wonderful views. They make lasting memories. They begin to make plans to do it again sometime soon.

                  Two weeks later they are back and excited to tackle Giant. They consulted the internet. Bought a new daypack and a cool water bottle. Downloaded an app. Went to Stewart's for some supplies. They got their favorite sneakers on and they are all set to go.

                  Except this time is different. The trail seems a bit more steep and rugged. The water bottle is empty and the snaks are gone before reaching the RPR junction. Its taking a lot longer than originally thought to reach the summit and there are some passing afternoon thunderstorms in the area. Fatigue sets in and an unbalanced step on some slippery rock results in a nasty non weight bearing sprain.

                  I think this sort of thing happens quite a lot in the high peaks. The learning curve is steep in the beginning. So much to know, much of which actually comes with experience, creates a bit of a Catch-22. Knowing your limits, or better yet knowing that you really dont know your limits at all in the early going and being wise enough to gain the experience needed to improve your abilities by choosing routes that are low risk is definitely preferable to overestimating your skills and getting yourself into trouble. Unfortunately there seems to be less interest in actually learning how to hike and backpack in a responsible way these days compared to those who seem to just engage in egregious narcissistic social media self promotion.
                  Adopt a natural resource. Give back.