In light of the recent news release of missing Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Geradine Largay’s remains being found 3 years after failing to meet her husband at a pre-arrange rendezvous point, I feel like it’s time to discuss hiker safety.
My deepest condolences to Geradine’s family and friends. I couldn’t imagine the torment they felt when she didn’t show up as planned, and the subsequent uncertainty of not knowing where she is, or what really happened. Now, 3 years later, they are having to revisit all those emotions. However, it must be noted that despite being a seasoned backpacker, she made some critical misjudgements that could have been easily avoided: She had been hiking with her friend who was forced to bail early due to an unforeseen family emergency. In numerous articles, it’s been stated that Largay had an awful sense of direction, but decided to push forward alone despite that. She couldn’t read a map and had forgotten her SPOT device at a hiker shack. Those 3 points alone are a deadly combination. She hiked to higher ground in hopes that would increase cell service. It didn’t, and it resulted in her to become more lost. She was close to a stream, had she followed (down stream, of course) it would have lead her to a town within a few days.
- Make a solid plan. Know exactly where you plan to hike. Leave a copy of the map with your emergency contact. Discuss the course of action in the event of you not showing up at the rendezvous location.
- Bring protection that you’re comfortable with and know how to use.
- Stay alert. Pay attention to details of your surroundings and people you encounter. Keep an eye out for anything that is sending off red flags. It’s always easier to avoid getting into dangerous situations than it is to get out of one.
- Be wary of people who make you uneasy. Don’t worry about being judgemental or hurting people’s feelings.
- Make yourself inconspicuous. Don’t camp near roads, trailheads, or established campgrounds. When looking to set up camp, find a location not easily seen from the trail. Be aware that anywhere people congregate may have increased risk.
- Revealing personal information may make you more vulnerable. Don’t post your location in real time. Add a password to your personal locator beacon’s tracking website. Only give the password to people you know and trust.
- Use a personal locator beacon. Become familiar with all of its features and know how to operate it before you hit the trail.
- Know what types of terrain you will encounter. Prepare and educate yourself on how you will travel through, over, and under the obstacles that will meet you on your hike. Practice fording (crossing) rivers/ streams, traversing/ scrambling mountain sides, and familiarize yourself with self-arrest maneuvers.
- Educate yourself on what types of wildlife you will encounter. Know the proper way to respond to each. Use a bear canister/ bag. Know the proper way to hang/ tie off whichever barrier you’re using. Don’t camp within 200 feet of water sources. Dawn and dusk are the most active time for wildlife, which in turn creates more traffic to and from lakes/ rivers/ streams.
- Always carry a map and compass. Know how to use them. Do not rely only on GSP devices.
- Stay hydrated. Know where your next water source is, and plan accordingly. Pack extra food in case of delays.
- Know your limitations. Don’t cross a river that’s too deep for your abilities. Don’t force yourself to hike 20+ miles in the first few days. Pay attention to weather. If you see a storm coming, start looking for a safe place to bunk down until it passes.
- Know First Aid. Not just for yourself, but your fellow hikers. Prevention is always better than treatment. Treat hot spots before they become a huge infected oozing blister. Stretch those hard working muscles throughout the day.
- Don’t be stupid.
Have fun, but play safe kids!