Increase in Nonemergency SAR Calls Provokes Warning from NH Fish and Game
The following is from a recent NH Fish and Game Law Enforcement post:
“…We thought you would like to see some of the SAR calls that we refuse to go out on. In the months of June and July, Conservation Officers received dozens of calls for hikers in need of rescuing. Many of those necessitated a response due to injuries and other extenuating circumstances. There were several calls, however, that our District Supervisors deemed non-emergencies and consequently did not initiate a rescue. These calls included a hiker who called for a rescue because it was getting dark and he was worried about bears and moose “getting” him. In other instances, hikers called at dusk on a warm night to say they did not have a light to safely make it down the mountain, or that they were simply tired and hungry. In each instance, after confirming there were no injuries or extenuating circumstances, these hikers were told that no one was coming to get them and that sunrise was at approximately 5am, so prepare to spend the night and hike down when the sun comes up. Unfortunately, these types of calls are becoming more and more frequent. They still necessitate an officer vetting the call and informing the parties of the bad news. The officers do not get paid to field these calls which come at all hours of the night and, due to poor cell service where the hikers are, can involve multiple calls to and from the same parties. Please hike safe—it’s your responsibility! Visit hikeSafe.com for more information and please share.”
Rescues are not an unusual occurrence in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Every year, hikers become stranded and unable to continue farther by either being completely unprepared for the level of difficulty, or lacking the necessary equipment for changing weather and conditions. The accessibility and comparatively low elevation of the region means people consistently underestimate the rugged nature of the trails, the intensity of exposure, and unpredictable weather… despite warning signs posted at tree line throughout the area.
The increase in SAR calls has spiked drastically over the course of the summer. NH Fish and Game officials are diligently reminding people who venture into the White Mountains just how physically demanding a hike can be, especially for those who don’t have much experience in this type of terrain. Oftentimes, those who call for help hadn’t adequately prepared for the trail they took, and neglected to bring a headlamp in case they get behind in time. There are signs posted along the trails warning hikers of how the difficulty, exposure, and weather can become deadly. The signs warn hikers to turn back if the weather is bad or if they do not feel prepared for what is ahead. But those signs are often ignored, and this season, people are seeing firsthand how dangerous these mountains can be.
The increased volume of these calls drains valuable resources, time, and costs that it takes to execute these missions.The state of New Hampshire and US Forest Service spend more than $260,000 annually on rescues. If people request rescues when they are not in imminent danger, that could take away from an instance where someone really is in trouble. The officers do not get paid to field these calls, and communication is challenging. These types of calls are becoming more and more frequent, and they create a drain on resources.
There are ways to prevent these instances from occurring.
- Know before you go. Study the trails you’re taking and what routes there are for possible bailout points. Bring a map and some form of GPS tracking system. Smartphones can work provided you have offline capabilities.
- Bring enough food and water for an overnight. Even if you’re only doing a day hike, always over-prepare, in case of a situation that leaves you stranded overnight. In this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Tell someone where you’re going and what trails you will be hiking. Let a friend or family member know what trails you plan on taking, and keep them updated if plans change. Be sure to set a certain time for them to acknowledge if you’ve been gone for too long.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself or take on a route beyond your skill level. Choose trails that you are comfortable with. If exposure isn’t your thing, don’t choose a trail that is above tree line for miles on a windy day.
- Bring a headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries. Always. Even if you’re only going out for the day, you never know when you might need light. If your plans change, and you wind up staying out longer than you planned to, having illumination is essential to making it down safely.
- Check the weather continuously. The weather in these mountains is far from predictable, but it’s still important to keep a close eye on it. If the weather doesn’t look favorable, the mountains will always be there tomorrow.
- Purchase a Hike Safe Card. They can be purchased through the NH Fish and Game website. Obtaining one of these cards means that you pledge to follow the Hiker Responsibility Code, and you are responsible for yourself, and yourself only.
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