Every year, hundreds of hikers in the United States become lost or injured and need to be rescued. During 2012, the Cochise County Search and Rescue Team was involved in 16 incidents in which they rescued 25 hikers. Fifteen were non-injury rescued, eight were injured and two suffered from dehydration, according to Carol Capas, Cochise County Sheriff Department information officer.
Recently, the Fort Huachuca Military Police received a 911 call about a hiker who fell and was trapped on a cliff face in Huachuca Canyon. After a little more than six hours, the patient was hoisted off the mountain by a pararescue helicopter. The patient was airlifted to Reservoir Hill where he was ground transported to the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center just after midnight. From start to finish, the incident lasted approximately eight hours. The rescue was successful.
According to Dan Ortega, Directorate of Emergency Services director, 39 personnel from Fort Huachuca and partner agencies were involved in the incident. An ambulance and three helicopters also responded.
“The cost of 39 personnel for eight hours was approximately $21 thousand,” Ortega said. Including equipment, the conservative cost estimate for the incident was not less than $53 thousand, he estimated.
Not only are rescues costly, but they are also avoidable. In addition to saving taxpayer dollars, safe practices also allow agencies involved in rescue operations to use personnel and equipment for other purposes. Fort Huachuca and local officials encourage those who live on the installation to learn about and practice hiking safety to enjoy and remember only positive outdoor experiences and avoid injury or the need of rescue.
Communication, companionship are crucial
If planning any excursion away from home, let someone know exactly where you are going and when you plan to return, especially if planning to travel in a remote location. If possible, leave a map, and always carry a cell phone. Stay on established trails or close by. Always stick to the original travel plan or notify contacts in case plans change.
Bring a friend, two, or even more. If someone gets injured, one person can stay with the hiker while the others go for help if cell phones don’t work in the area where the accident occurred.
Dress for success
Dress for the occasion. Wear light, long, loose clothing, cotton socks and sturdy shoes. Long-sleeve shirts and pants offer some protection from brush, cactus spines, insect bites and sunburn. Sunscreen, sunglasses and hats complete a well-dressed hiker’s attire.
Drink, eat, accessorize for safety
Always carry a few basic supplies for comfort and safety. These include a gallon of water per person, per day, even for a short hike. Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water rather than ration it. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages, and do not smoke.
Bring simple, lightweight, high-energy snacks such as hard candies, dried fruit or meat jerky.
Use sunscreen and insect repellant, and reapply as needed. Carry a map or GPS and know how to use them.
Take along a loud whistle and a mirror. A whistle carries farther and is easier on a person than crying out for help, and a flashing mirror helps attract attention. Have waterproof matches available to start a warming fire at night or a smoky fire to attract attention during the day. Carry a flashlight with working batteries to use as a signal at night, especially during the current fire season which will last until the monsoon is well established.
If stranded at night or caught in a downpour, a large, heavy garbage bag can become a makeshift blanket for heat conservation or a rain poncho. Rip out a hole to expose the face, but keep the head covered.
A hiking stick can aid those with poor balance in walking across uneven ground.
Carry a simple first-aid kit with 100 inches of dental floss, a needle, disinfectant, gauze pads, adhesive tape and Band-Aids.
Heed weather conditions before venturing out
If planning a hike, keep weather conditions in mind. Cochise County Search and Rescue personnel recommend avoiding hikes and strenuous outdoor activities during hot weather. Wait for fall, winter or spring for extensive outings on foot.
Avoid hiking and resting in washes if the forecast calls for rain. Flash flooding is possible even in sunny areas. Avoid hiking and resting in washes during the rainy season.
It’s best to get inside when thunderstorms occur. If possible, take shelter under naturally occurring rock ledges after putting on the makeshift garbage bag parka (described earlier) to keep dry and preserve body heat.
“If caught in a lightning storm where shelter is unavailable, crouch down and stay low to maintain a grounding point with the ground and stay away from open fields, high land, trees, poles, other tall objects and standing bodies of water,” said Dan Orta, Installation Safety Office director.
Be fit enough for the hiking experience
Those who are not in good physical shape should avoid hikes over steep, difficult terrain and stick to hikes at their fitness level. Hikers should not chance climbing rocks or attempting hikes in terrain where they can possibly fall and suffer injury. Avoid getting close to the edge of cliffs, mountainside trails or any terrain where a fall can lead to possible injury.
Prevent wildlife encounters
Stumbling upon wildlife is a real possibility. Every year, scores of hikers encounter wild animals, snakes or insects. Some encounters can be dangerous.
Be careful of hiking in tall grass or rocky areas. Careful observation can prevent hikers from stepping on snakes, being stung by scorpions or being bitten or stung by insects which can cause potential harm. Use walking sticks as probes to ensure rocky or grassy areas are safe to cross.
Those who unexpectedly encounter a wild animal should be quiet, avert their eyes, back off slowly and leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible. Many unpleasant encounters occur when an animal is startled, especially females with young to protect.
“Do not run when encountering wild animals because it displays fear and makes you vulnerable to big game,” Orta said. “Just back off slowly and continue your hike.
“Watch out for unexpected company, other than animals, traversing through the mountains,” added Orta. Those who see others involved in suspicious activity should change direction and leave quietly. As soon as it is safe, if a signal is possible, use a cell phone to report suspicious activity to authorities.
Bee wary, bee safe
When hiking, listen and watch for bees. Never step on or turn over logs or rocks where bees may be nesting. Listen for the hum of an active bee colony, Orta cautions.
Look for bees in holes in the ground, holes in trees, cacti and rocky areas.
The best method of escaping a bee attack is to cover your head and run for shelter. “Any covering for your body, especially for your head and face, will help you escape,” Orta said.
Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts may help prevent some stings. Running through brushy areas in a zigzag pattern may confuse the swarm and help a hiker escape.
With its rugged mountains, spectacular scenery and favorable weather conditions, Arizona is considered a hiker’s Mecca. While here, take advantage of the numerous hiking opportunities. Safe practices allow people to create good memories of their outdoor adventures at Fort Huachuca and in the Southwest.