Hiking season is just beginning in the Wood River Valley as trails open up after a heavy late-winter snowfall and the days get warmer. But before hikers head for their favorite trailheads, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center cautions them to be prepared for anything, including extreme weather changes and injuries.
Dr. Deborah Robertson, medical director of the hospital’s emergency department, offers a list of useful tips to follow, whether it’s for a walk around Adams Gulch or summiting Devil’s Bedstead.
Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. This should be done even if you are going with others.
Robertson said that’s one of the most important precautionary measures that can be taken, especially if you’re hiking alone, so that someone else knows where you are and can call for help if you don’t return when expected.
She said many visitors who hike in the area are often surprised by the lack of cell phone reception there is on trails.
“People assume they’re not too far away, and then they don’t have cell service,” she said.
Though they are a little expensive, personal locator beacons or GPS emergency signal transponders can connect with a satellite to send a distress signal with your exact location for rescue, a tool that can be vital in an area with no cell reception, if you’ve injured yourself and cannot self-extricate.
Bring a map and a compass and keep track of your location. Knowing what trail you’re on, and how you got there, can save valuable time to rescue personnel searching for you.
Robertson said that although backcountry rescue personnel in the valley train rigorously and are extremely knowledgeable of the area, getting to someone can take time, and knowing your exact location can make all the difference.
Stay found. If you are lost, do not continue on in hopes of finding your way. Retrace your route back toward the trailhead until you pick up the trail or find someone who knows the area. If you cannot retrace your route, stay put, conserve energy and water, make yourself visible and await rescue. If possible, stay together in case of problems.
Though many people choose to hike alone, Robertson encourages hiking in groups, which can prove to be helpful if someone gets injured because they can be helped out by the others, or one person can go find help while the other stays with the injured hiker.
Bring plenty of water and extra high-energy food. In case you end up lost or injured, those items will come in handy.
Hikes such as Pioneer Cabin only have water sources at the beginning of the trail. Robertson suggests a minimum of two liters of water for that hike during moderate temperatures. On hotter days, more water could be necessary. In addition, carrying a water purification tool could save you weight in your pack if you know the hike you’ll be on has water sources along the way.
Bring clothing for changes in the weather. Mountain climate can be unpredictable with sudden storms producing rain, hail and temperatures that drop quickly. Carry a windbreaker, sunscreen, and extra warm clothing.
A friend of Robertson’s made it out safely after injuring himself hiking to Pioneer Cabin. He carried with him three headlamps, extra food and extra warm clothing. Robertson said he injured himself around 2 p.m. and got to town safely around 3:30 a.m. the next day, after enduring two hailstorms along the way.
Bring a first aid kit. Robertson said she always carries duct tape, because it can be used for so many things. On a light day hike, bring wound-care supplies like Band-Aids and gauze, as well as a blister supply kit.
Most importantly, always bring extra food and water, rain gear and warm clothing. It can be the difference between life and death if you injure yourself on a hike alone.