EDITORIAL: Be prepared for winter hiking or stay home

A helicopter hovers over the Adirondacks during a rescue mission in 2018.
A helicopter hovers over the Adirondacks during a rescue mission in 2018.

This is an actual dispatch from state Department of Environmental Conservation about a rescue last weekend:

WILDERNESS SEARCH: On Nov. 25 at 4:50 p.m., Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from Essex County about three hikers on the summit of Mount Marcy requesting a ride off the mountain. The hikers were wearing regular sneakers and complaining of frozen feet with at least eight inches of snow near the peak. Rangers Black and Evans responded. The hikers could not read a map properly, making it more difficult for Rangers to pinpoint their location. At 8:45 p.m., Rangers reached the hikers and helped them to Marcy Dam and then to their vehicle. Resources were clear at 10:36 p.m.

After you get done shaking your head over the fact that three people, at least one of whom is old enough to drive a motor vehicle, wandered up the state’s highest mountain through eight inches of snow wearing only sneakers and having no idea how to get back down, you should get angry.

Their stupidity and carelessness put lives at risk.

They put their own lives at risk. They put the lives of rescuers at risk. They put at risk the lives of other hikers who might have legitimately been in need of rescue through no fault of their own.

Hiking in the winter in the mountains is especially dangerous and requires special preparations and abilities.

The weather can change drastically in a blink. It’s easy to get lost in a snowstorm. It takes longer to get where you’re going. It’s easier to become injured on ice and snow. And frostbite and hypothermia can hit you quickly.

Each year, forest rangers, police, firefighters, ski patrols, EMS workers and volunteers are forced to go into the Adirondacks and other remote areas, often at night, to rescue someone who wasn’t prepared for winter conditions in the wilderness.

Sometimes, these rescues involve hundreds of people and last for days, often facing dangerously cold temperatures and winds and snow and ice. Not only are these hikers risking others’ lives, they’re also costing taxpayers a lot of money. Rescues are costly in terms of manpower and equipment.

There’s no reason not to be prepared, especially for anyone old enough to tie their sneakers.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation website has a guide for winter hiking at https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/112826.html.

It tells you what you need to hike in the mountains during the winter, as well as advice on how to traverse trails, what to do should you get lost and how to get information about weather and trail conditions.

If you’re not willing to follow these guidelines, then take your winter walks on a paved municipal bike path close to home.

There’s nothing more refreshing and beautiful than winter hikes in the mountains. But don’t put your life, the lives of your companions, and the lives of potential rescuers in danger by being unprepared.

These people were lucky. They got home safely.

Not everyone does.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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