By MIKE LYNCH
Hikers visiting popular trails in the High Peaks region this weekend should expect to see an increased presence of forest rangers and outdoor educators at trailheads.
Forest rangers, Adirondack Mountain Club stewards and educators, and the Adirondack 46ers’ volunteer trailhead stewards will promote proper planning and preparation through direct conversations with hikers at the High Peaks Information Center, trailheads and on the trails, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Those outreach groups will be talking with hikers to ensure they are properly dressed, equipped, and prepared for the conditions they are likely to face on their hikes.
The effort is, in part, to cut down on the number of search-and-rescue missions.
“A lot of times it comes down to people not being prepared for the conditions or the hike that they were about to go on,” ADK Education Director Seth Jones said. “This is an effort to work together collectively and do some extra education to help prevent those rescues from happening.”
The number of search-and-rescue mission has spiked in recent years as the number of hikers has increased. Statewide rangers conducted 346 search-and-rescue missions in 2017, resulting in 147 rescues and 22 recovered bodies, according to the DEC. A decade earlier they went on 245 missions, making 92 rescues and finding four dead.
The numbers have been especially noticeable in the High Peaks Wilderness, where the most recent four-year average rose to 97 search-and-rescue incidents per year. During the previous four years, rangers responded to an average of 65 incidents per year. Many of these incidents are the result of hikers being improperly prepared, according to the DEC.
According to the DEC, educating hikers and other visitors to the Adirondack backcountry has always been a function of the forest rangers. This pilot initiative on the Presidents Day holiday weekend will experiment with a slightly different means of providing that education, according to the DEC. Forest rangers and partners will evaluate the outcome of the weekend and based on those results, will develop a plan for this summer.
This initiative builds upon DEC’s efforts to work with the communities and the recreating public to address issues associated with the popularity of this region, according to the DEC. It is based on the Preventative Search and Rescue program developed by the National Park Service. This program has decreased the number of search-and-rescue incidents on popular backcountry routes in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite national parks. Face-to-face education is a vital component of the program, according to the DEC.
“Plan Ahead and Prepare,” a main theme that the outreach groups will talk about this weekend, is the first of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and the main theme of Hike Safe’s Hiker Responsibility Code.
“We often consider it the most important principle,” Jones said. “All of the other principles of Leave No Trace kind of fall into place after that.”
Jones said hikers should think about running through their trips in advance, by considering what the terrain will be like, picking out the right gear, and giving their trip itinerary to a relative or friend.
The DEC offers the following recommendations for people hiking in the backcountry this winter:
- Know your skill level and physical capabilities — choose trails within your or your group’s ability. Remember it takes more effort and energy to move through snow;
- Inform someone of your travel plans and let them know where you are going, your planned route, when you plan to return, and emergency numbers to call if you do not return at the scheduled time;
- Wear base layers of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your skin dry and insulating layers such as wool or fleece, waterproof or water-resistant outer layers, thick socks, a winter hat, gloves or mittens, gaiters, and waterproof, insulated boots;
- Wear snowshoes or skis and bring trail crampons or micro spikes; Bring plenty of food and water. Eat, drink, and rest often to prevent hypothermia;
- Pack a first aid kit, extra clothing, a fire starter kit, headlamp with extra batteries, and a trail map;
- and keep an eye on the weather, and if conditions worsen, head back immediately.