Alternative and escape routesOnce you have planned your route, plan and check out alternative routes that you may need to take in case of bad weather or if the going gets too much for some party members. In mountainous areas, it is essential to have two or three detailed escape routes should any situation or emergency arise.”

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For the last several days I have been working with my Search and Rescue (SAR) team on a forest fire in the Pacific Northwest.  The team has helped to coordinate the potential evacuation of a small community and has worked with Forest Service staff to assist stranded hikers.  Getting these hikers out safely has been a priority.  Many hiking groups were met by local Ranger District staff well away from the fire to plan their exit.  Others self extracted.

Thankfully, there have been no personnel casualties.

As bad as this fire has been, there have been several lessons learned.  One has been to plan an escape route.  Develop the plan at home before hitting the trail.

The threat to the hiker ranges from fire, weather (snow, rain and wind) to a geologic event (earthquake).

When evaluating an escape route I recommend the hiker consider several elements.

First, take a look at your topographic map and trail guides to determine potential escape routes.  Evaluate the terrain.  Are there barriers due to slope and vegetation?  This is especially true should the hiker need to “bushwhack” cross country.  A conversation with a ranger can be invaluable.

Second, is the route achievable and realistic for you and your group?  Is your group fit, healthy and ready for such a hike?

Third, are there sources of water along your route?  In some cases blue stream lines on a topographic map should be colored brown in the summer as stream beds dry up.

Forth, are you carrying the right gear?  Does the day hiker have the ten essential in the pack?

Communicate your change of plans to friends and family.  Let that responsible person (designated to call 911 if you are late) know your plans too.

Don’t forget to fill out the trail permits when traveling in the backcountry.  These were invaluable to narrow down who was still in the backcountry.  In several cases, contact numbers were called to verify the safe return of a hiker.  Take this seriously.  One fellow used the Portland Airport designator (e.g., SFO) as the home address.  This was not helpful.

This week the hikers the SAR team assisted were dedicated backcountry travelers with full packs.  Their hikes ranged from four to twenty miles.

Thus far there have been no injuries.  That is a blessing.

 

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