Wilderness, by its very nature, has risks. The best way to prevent accidents and mishaps on ANY trip is to prepare before you head out. Below are some tips to remember when planning your trip as well as some things to keep in mind while on the trail.
SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!
Before You Go
Choose an appropriate destination. Choose a hike or trail that is appropriate to your group's experience, fitness, navigation skills and knowledge of the area. As a general rule, take children only on routes which allow for a safe and easy retreat.
Check the weather. Mountain weather is particularly unpredictable. Click here for the most up-to-date National Weather Service forecast for the San Bernardino County Mountains. http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?zoneid=CAZ055
Create and share a trip plan. Some of the most difficult wilderness searches start when a person or group is reported missing and there is no knowledge of what area, trail or timetable that person or group had chosen. Information contained in a trip plan will greatly assist search efforts. Download, and fill-out our Wilderness Trip Plan Form before your next trip, and leave it with a responsible party or on your dashboard (folded).
Pack the Ten Essentials (and West Valley SAR's 11th Essential). Before you hit any trail, no matter how easy, short, or close to home, make sure your backpack includes the ten eleven essential systems. In the 1930's, The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers, developed the "Ten Essentials." This list of items could save a life in the event of an emergency and should be carried by all hikers. You may not use these items on every trip, but in the case of need, you'll be glad you have them.
The Ten Essentials 'systems' and West Valley SAR's 11th Essential are:
- Navigation - map and compass
- Sun protection - sunscreen and sunglasses
- Insulation - extra clothing (appropriate for the season)
- Illumination - headlamp (preferred) or flashlight; extra batteries
- First-aid supplies - backcountry first aid kit
- Fire - matches and fire starter
- Repair kit and tools - multi-purpose tool and duct tape
- Nutrition - extra food
- Hydration - extra water
- Emergency shelter - space blanket, tarp or large garbage bag
- West Valley SAR's 11th Essential - Signaling and communication - whistle and mirror
For more details on the Ten Essential 'Systems', including West Valley Search and Rescue's highly recommended 11th Essential along with a great video prepared from REI, please check out the "Essentials".
On The Trail
Stick to your trip plan. Should your group not return as planned, search efforts will be focused on the area and trails detailed in your original trip plan.
Stay together. Start as a group, hike as a group, and end as a group.
Track your progress. As you hike, make note of landmarks (peaks, streams, trails, campgrounds, etc.) and cross reference those landmarks with your map. Check your location and progress regularly. Look behind you - the trail will look different on return.
Stay on the Trail. The San Bernardino County Mountains are rugged and in many places extremely dangerous. Existing trails offer the safest route (and the best chance for being found quickly).
In an Emergency
If you or someone in your group suffers an injury: Provide first aid treatment and make the person comfortable. If possible, calculate your exact position on the map. Do not leave the injured person if you are lost. Someone should stay with them while others take a map and get help. The injured person needs to have warm clothing, shelter, food and water, and a signaling device. Make note of the colors of the injured person's belongings (i.e. clothing, backpack, etc.). On reaching a telephone, dial 911 and detail the incident, the injured person's condition, and their location.
If you become lost. - S.T.O.P! - Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. Kids - Hug A Tree! (For more information on West Valley SAR's Hug-a-Tree Program, please click here). People who continue on after they become lost usually get more lost, and further from the trail. Don't follow canyons or creeks as many times these are the most dangerous routes in the mountains, often leading to cliffs or other hazards. Try to reorient yourself. Use your map, compass and nearby landmarks for reference. Experienced hikers say that most people find their way after studying a map and the surrounding terrain for five minutes, so don't panic if you can't immediately figure out where you are. If your last known location is within a reasonable distance, try to go back to it but don't wander from your original route. Rescuers will start looking for you on your planned route.
If you can't reorient yourself - STAY PUT! Maintain a positive mental attitude. Being lost is not dangerous if you are prepared and have a positive mental attitude. Knowing that help is likely on the way, use your Ten Essentials. Protect yourself from the elements, stay warm and hydrated, and ready your signaling gear. If you must start a fire, be responsible! Wildfires are a real threat to the wilderness as well as to you and rescuers! Weather permitting, stay in or near an open area - doing so will make you more visible to both ground rescuers and search aircraft. If you must find or make a shelter, do it before dark or before a storm comes in.
If a member of your party goes missing. Search for him or her, but preserve their footprints, scent articles (clothing, pack, etc.), belongings, witnesses, point-last-seen, camp, car, etc. Send for help and provide information regarding the exact location where the person was last seen, what happened, the missing person's medical background, etc.
A Note about Cell Phones.
In most wilderness environments, cell phone coverage is very limited. Do not depend on a cell phone to help in an emergency. That said, your cell phone may prove to be a useful tool if you follow these steps:
- Turn off your phone or place it in airplane mode. Cell phones use a lot of power when searching for a signal and will completely drain a fully charged battery in only a few hours.
- In an emergency, turn on your phone, or take it out of airplane mode, to see if you can acquire a signal. In the wilderness, sometimes a few feet can make a difference in getting a call through or sending a text. If it is safe to do so, try moving to higher ground.
- If your phone acquires a signal, call 911. Tell the operator your name and that you are lost in a wilderness area. Provide him/her with as much information about your location as possible. If you have a GPS app on your phone that provides the coordinates of your location (e.g. "Compass" app on iPhone; any number of apps available for Android phones), provide the coordinates of your location to the operator. The operator should tell you to turn your phone off to conserve power, and to turn it on again at a certain time. Be sure to follow these directions since rescuers will attempt to contact you at that time.
- If you are unable to call 911, try sending a text message to 911. Text-to-911 service is becoming increasingly available in California, and text messages have a greater chance of being transmitted in remote areas as they require less bandwidth than a voice call. Provide as much detail about your location and situation as possible. If you are unable to text 911, try sending a text message to a responsible person asking that they call 911 on your behalf.
- Do not call friends and family! Emergency services personnel will do that for you. You need to conserve your phone's battery.