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Shared responsibility for search and rescue

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  • Not_Built_For_Speed
    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.

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  • Nessmuk
    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).

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  • Hear the Footsteps
    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.


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  • tcd
    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.

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  • Bunchberry
    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.

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  • Rmxfiles
    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.

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  • Makwa
    started a topic Shared responsibility for search and rescue

    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?