Amanda Eller, the 35-year-old yoga instructor rescued 17 days after getting lost in on a forest reserve on the Hawaiian island of Maui, broke every hiking rule. She was dressed in yoga pants and a tank top and left her cellphone and water bottle in her car. She had no map, no compass, no whistle, no nothing. She didn’t tell people where she was going and once lost, she didn’t stay put in a place where she was more likely to be seen from the air. She wouldn’t have made it in New Hampshire’s woods or mountains. The evening temperatures on Maui in May drop to the low 60s; in New Hampshire to the low 40s or below.
Several hikers have died, one from hypothermia, so far in 2019 and many more, including a Dartmouth student on an official school outing, had to be rescued. Some were injured and needed help. Most were unprepared.
Two men left for a short hike at 5 p.m. and, having no headlamps or flashlights, called for help at 8:45 when lost in the dark. A Pennsylvania couple trudged for miles toward Mount Lincoln through deep snow with no snowshoes and grew exhausted. One required a helicopter rescue.
Unprepared hikers are the major reason why New Hampshire Fish and Game’s rescue team averages 145 searches per year.
Being prepared so as not to get lost or surviving if lost or injured is easy and inexpensive. Many organizations, among them Fish and Game and the Appalachian Mountain Club, list the essentials every hiker should carry. The first rule is that “cotton kills.” Cotton clothing, when wet, transfers heat away from the body 240 times faster than dry air and faster still when it’s windy. Wear or carry clothing made from wool or synthetic fibers designed to retain rather than transfer heat.
Most lists of the hiking basics include water and perhaps a water filter; a map, compass and the ability to use them; a whistle; a flashlight or headlamp and batteries; a means to kindle a fire; rain wear, or at a minimum a couple of large plastic trash bags that can serve as rain gear or a crude bivy sack; food like dried fruit and nuts or energy bars; warm clothing; a hat; and insect repellent. Though it won’t always have reception, a cellphone is advised. Cold weather hiking or hiking at high altitude requires more gear and serious outdoor skills.
Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, the AMC and others do yeoman’s work to educate the public through hikesafe.com, signs at trailheads and in-person advice from rangers. Still, far too many people miss the message and head off unprepared. Those who then find themselves in need of rescue may also find that they are required to reimburse the state for the cost.
At visitnh.gov, New Hampshire’s Division of Travel and Tourism boasts about the many activities the Granite State offers, including hiking. The site contains a link to hikesafe.com, but it should go a bit further. It should add that adventure does not come without risk and list the 10 or so, at minimum, essentials every hiker should carry.
The Concord Monitor