Wilderness Safety

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 Mt. Baldy weather forecast.

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).

On The Trail

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 an 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.

The Ten Essential ‘systems’ and
West Valley SAR’s 11th Essential

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.

Programs to Prepare You Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR)

West Valley SAR provides wilderness safety education for children and adults through its Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) program. The PSAR program includes the internationally recognized Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program, which is designed to teach children ages 5-12 how to keep from getting lost, what to do if they become lost, how to stay warm and dry, and how they can help searchers to find them.

PSAR presentations are available throughout the West Valley area of San Bernardino County and are free of charge. Each presentation typically lasts between 30 minutes and one hour, and includes a question and answer session.

If you would like to schedule a Preventative Search and Rescue presentation for your organization, please e-mail us at westvalleysar@westvalleysar.org.

Please contact us at least a month in advance to ensure that an instructor is available. Evenings and weekends are the best times to schedule presentations.

A quick note on 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.