Rainy days in the Adirondack backcountry provide an ideal opportunity for contemplation. Often my own woolgathering collides with the remoteness of the setting to divert my thoughts to disaster – the possibility of getting lost, being injured or the victim of some other calamity. One of my favorite topics of worry and woe is my lack of a comprehensive emergency response plan.
Every backcountry explorer should prepare an emergency plan, as it provides the necessary information to facilitate locating you should you become lost or suffer a serious, immobilizing injury. Under more dire circumstances an emergency plan may mean the difference between a live extraction and a dead retrieval, or the worst-case scenario – an unmarked grave with accompanying animal nibbles.
I think a backcountry emergency plan should consist of two parts: a trip-specific itinerary, and also more general information to help locate me in the backcountry in the event of an emergency.
The first part, the trip itinerary, should be standard practice for any backcountry adventure, whether just a few hours or a multi-day trek. At a minimum the location of the trailhead (i.e. where you will leave the car), an estimated route (including where you plan on camping each night), the members of your party and when you plan to return should be left with a responsible person. This is especially important when bushwhacking, as the likelihood of encountering any assistance in the backcountry is much smaller, and even more important for solo trips.
But is an itinerary enough? Is this all the pertinent information required to perform a search and rescue? Does your responsible individual know the make, model, color and/or license plate of your vehicle? How about your camping habits in the backcountry? Can they describe the clothes you typically wear? Do they know your shoe size? These are the kinds of questions searchers will probably be asking. Clearly, a trip itinerary is inadequate during a true emergency and more general information to help identify you in the backcountry is needed.
A second part of my ideal backcountry emergency plan goes beyond the basic itinerary to include information pertaining to the individuals involved, such as their physical descriptions, backcountry behavior patterns (e.g. campsite preferences), clothing (including make, color and size), shoe size and tread pattern, and what kind of shelter they are using. A physical description of everyone in your party is the backbone, including their height, weight, eye color, hair color, identifying scars – the same details on a driver’s license. I’d also include unique identifying marks too, such as scars, moles, piercings, tattoos, implants or any other “improvements” that would allow authorities to identify your body if the absolute worst happens.
What about your backcountry behavior? Do you typically search for exposed views and mountain tops, or slog in the boggy lowlands? How do you choose campsites? Any typical backcountry behavior might be important to note if it will aid in narrowing your location in case of an emergency. Keep hobbies, fetishes and any embarrassing proclivities to yourself though, they offer little insight into your backcountry behavior and will most likely only embarrass you or your family during a search and rescue.
Clothing is another important component. What about listing each article of backcountry clothing’s make, color and size? Digital photographs might be helpful. Perhaps especially important would be a photo of the underside of your hiking boots as the tread pattern might be used to track you in the backcountry in the event you are lost. I think including a list of gear is essential too, especially the high profile equipment such as shelter and backpack. I’d include the shelter’s color, maker and footprint, as they might be helpful in locating and identifying campsites.
Time is often of the essence during a search and rescue and getting important information into the hands of searchers could make all the difference. Having an emergency plan, which includes both an itinerary and information to help identify you in the backcountry, could mean the difference between a rescue and a futile backcountry search in the event of a true emergency.
Photos: A wet afternoon at Salmon Lake, a campsite on Beaverdam Pond and backpack taking a break at Witchhopple Lake along Red Horse Trail by Dan Crane.