Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hiking? If nothing else, bring a whistle.

A couple, both around 30 years of age, were recently found after getting lost in a local state park and spending 5 days there. My wife was struck by the story and pointed it out to me because the park they got lost in was Castle Rock State Park, a spot favored by local rock climbers, and a park we've frequently visited.

I'm definitely happy the couple was found, but I was extremely bothered by the article. The quote that bothered me the most:

"They deserve a lot of credit,'' Freeman [leader of one of the search and rescue teams] said, "because they had the most important piece of equipment out there when you are lost, and that is the determination that they were going to get found.''

They didn't have the most important equipment -- in fact, they hadn't prepared at all. I think comments like this ignore the fact that when you are hiking in an unfamiliar area, you need to be prepared, even when it's a casual walk in the woods. They got rescued but this easily could have been a tragedy because they were so incredibly unprepared in an area that was brand-new to them.

Arnaud Stehle was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. His wife, Maria, was dressed in t-shirt and pants. They carried no water, no extra clothing, no emergency whistle, no headlamp or small flashlight. Their clothing indicates that they didn't know evening temperatures, and they didn't get a sense for when sunset occurs. (They got lost because after the sun set, they became disoriented -- something definitely scary.)

Thankfully, they DID tell friends where they were going -- that alone probably saved their lives. But please folks, if you carry nothing else when you're hiking, carry an emergency whistle. It's tiny, weighs nothing in your pocket, and costs $4.50 at REI. The one I've linked to is the Mini Fox 40 but any whistle which is: 1) loud, 2) pea-less (doesn't have that little ball in the whistle which if frozen or wet will sometimes stop the whistle from working), and 3) made of high-impact plastic will work. My wife keeps one clipped on her backpack whereever she goes and when we hike, we each carry one in the possibility that we get separated. Really, it's the cheapest insurance you can carry. Knowing morse code for SOS (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot) will help but just blowing the whistle will carry your signal further than yelling plus when weak from exposure, lack of food, etc. you can still whistle while yelling becomes extremely difficult.

There are lots of other things that one can carry -- space blankets, waterproof matches, compasses, signal mirrors, extra food and water, warmer layers, mini headlamps, light raingear, etc. etc. -- but it's understandable on a casual walk through the woods, much of it may be onerous.

Just bring the whistle -- please. It could save your life.
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