Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Efforts to Reduce Adirondack Rescues, Educate Hikers

Forest Rangers lead search and rescue

An effort will be underway to promote proper planning and preparation through direct conversations with hikers at trailheads and on the trails in the High Peaks Wilderness, February 16-18, the upcoming Presidents’ Day Weekend.

The organizers hope to increase engagement between hikers and experienced backcountry users to reduce the number of search and rescue incidents in the Adirondacks and help to ensure the public has an enjoyable and safe outdoor experience.

DEC Forest Rangers, Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) summit stewards and educators, Adirondack 46ers’ volunteer trailhead stewards, and volunteers from Keene Backcountry Rescue will interact with hikers to help ensure they are properly dressed, equipped, and prepared for the conditions they are likely to face in the backcountry.

Hikers can expect to see Forest Rangers, stewards, and volunteers at the ADK’s High Peaks Information Center, at trailheads, and on the trails of popular hiking routes in the High Peaks.

Due to the rising popularity of the Adirondacks, DEC Forest Rangers have seen an increase in backcountry search and rescue incidents requiring response. This is especially true in the High Peaks Wilderness, where the most recent four-year average rose to 97 search and rescue incidents per year. During the previous four years, Forest Rangers responded to an average of 65 incidents per year. Many of these incidents are the result of hikers being improperly prepared. You can read about those incidents HERE.

This initiative is based on the National Park Service’s Preventative Search and Rescue program, which has decreased the number of search and rescue incidents on popular backcountry routes in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks.

“Plan Ahead and Prepare” is the first of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and the main theme of Hike Safe’s Hiker Responsibility Code. Hikers recreating this winter to plan ahead and be prepared for the elements:

  • Know your skill level and physical capabilities – choose trails within your or your group’s ability. Remember it takes more effort and energy to move through snow;
  • Inform someone of your travel plans and let them know where you are going, your planned route, when you plan to return, and emergency numbers to call if you do not return at the scheduled time;
  • Wear base layers of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your skin dry and insulating layers such as wool or fleece, waterproof or water-resistant outer layers, thick socks, a winter hat, gloves or mittens, gaiters, and waterproof, insulated boots;
  • Wear snowshoes or skis and bring trail crampons or micro spikes;
  • Bring plenty of food and water. Eat, drink, and rest often to prevent hypothermia;
  • Pack a first aid kit, extra clothing, a fire starter kit, headlamp with extra batteries, and a trail map; and
  • Keep an eye on the weather, and if conditions worsen, head back immediately.

Always Be Prepared: Properly prepare and plan before entering the backcountry. Visit DEC’s Hiking Safety webpage and Adirondack Trail Information webpage for more information about where you intend to travel. The Adirondack Almanack reports weekly Outdoor Conditions each Thursday afternoon.

Photo: Forest Rangers lead a search and rescue (provided by DEC).

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18 Responses

  1. Steven Antinozzi 46r #10651 says:

    Suggest adding to the list. Set yourself a turnaround time when you plan the day. Carefully evaluate your progress. Return home with safe margins of time and energy.

  2. Justin Farrell says:

    I’m happy to see more efforts are being made to help reduce the number of unprepared & uneducated “hikers & backcountry users”. However, the article seems to only focus on “hikers” and doesn’t really say anything about educating people about proper overnight camping practices & etiquette, especially in the Eastern High Peaks region. Hopefully this will also be part of the education process, as it seems clear that is still an on going issue in the region as well.

    • John Warren says:

      Justin, point taken – this kind of thing should have a wider view – but I think we spend a lot of time at the Almanack trying to educate all users, backcountry and front country. Not every story can encompass all aspects.

      John Warren

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks John, likewise bro.
        I thought this was connected to the NYSDEC release, not just an Almanack post. My bad.

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    All of the preparedness points above are good ones, but how much of that can a novice hiker digest and comply with at the trailhead. I have suggested elsewhere two “tules of threes” might be a better approach – at least for heading off the number of searches. These are:

    Essential equipment: Map (paper, not on a phone), light, water.
    On the Trail: Keep the group together, watch the time, be prepared to turn back.

    If you read the search and rescue reports, nearly every search for an overdue, benighted, or just plain lost group is the result of the failure to heed my above suggestions.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree. Education (proper gear, provisions, route planning, and notification of family/friends as to those plans) needs to happen prior to arriving at a trailhead.

    • Dan says:

      All good points. In addition, I tend to believe that bad decisions are made regarding weather (the last point in DEC’s PR).

      Case in point: the couple that got stranded on Algonquin. Not only did they nearly lose their lives, they endangered others. I bagged an outing that day because of the weather, and couldn’t believe they actually attempted a High Peak.

    • Paul says:

      Just check if they have the essentials. If not, for their own safety, tell them to go home and come back when they are prepared.

      • Boreas says:

        “Just check if they have the essentials. If not, for their own safety, tell them to go home and come back when they are prepared.”

        And if they don’t? That is what Rangers used to do. They had considerable authority. Trailhead volunteers and signage do not.

        • Paul says:

          Boreas it was more of a rhetorical comment. I know these folks have zilch as far as authority. Rangers use to do this? I did lots of hiking in these areas never got checked once?

          • Boreas says:


            I would be surprised if you were never checked out. Most likely, if you saw a Ranger, he was observing you as well. It isn’t hard to find a greenhorn – especially in winter. Often Rangers would check you out by observing your gear, dress, and behavior. Pete Fish and others used to hang out at trailheads and trail intersections. striking up conversations with people. It wasn’t because they were lonely. It was a way to determine if they thought you were capable of what you were attempting. Back before synthetics were cheap and popular, if you were wearing cotton and not wool in the winter, Pete would give you a good chewing out. Even if you were wearing wool, he would ask where you were going to determine if there was enough daylight for you to get there and back based on how quickly you were hiking. He would ask what gear you had in your pack and if you had X, Y, and Z. Today it would be unusual to see a Ranger on the trail let alone talk to one. But a Ranger carries a lot more authority and gravitas than a volunteer steward. If a Ranger told me to turn around, I would.

            It is similar to the way ECOs appear from nowhere and sidle up to you and ask in a friendly way how the fishing or hunting is. They observe your behavior and more often than not do not ask to see a license unless you act nervous or they see something that tips them off. They may even offer a tip on where the trout are rising, then move on.

            • Paul says:

              Pete Fish could come out from behind a tree if someone did anything wrong, a legend. My point was no ranger ever asked me for anything at a trailhead which is what your comment said they used to do, it sounds like you were questioned at trailheads. All my years in the HPW I only saw Pete F. in the back country. Just timing I guess.

              • adkDreamer says:

                I believe you Paul, 100%.

              • Boreas says:


                Yeah, I think I just happened to catch Pete checking registers. It mostly happened at the Garden (close to his house) and the Loj. But in the 80s there seemed to be Rangers that patrolled the backcountry almost exclusively, and others who spent more time at trailheads – probably for quicker dispatch.

  4. James Marco says:

    I fully support trail education. But, one of the things that strikes me is that it is mostly pretty voluntary. There are no actual requirements for anyone entering the wilderness areas that actually contribute to his survival. For example, a hiker doesn’t really need bear canister to stay alive in the backcountry. Yet, this IS regulated in the High Peaks area. Hmm, something wrong here. A basic education about a few survival techniques can be contained on a single sheet of paper that is NOT required. Why isn’t it posted/available at trail heads?

    What constitutes a survival situation? What skills do you need to survive? What tools do you need to survive? When can you leave LNT principles behind in the effort required to survive? These are not simple questions, indeed, answers change with circumstances. As recreational activities in the backcountry grows in popularity, it is becoming more important than ever to insure a minimum level of basic backcountry & LNT skills. While this one time backcountry training is a GOOD thing, something more permanent is clearly needed.

    As I said, I fully support the educational efforts, but, as a purely voluntary activity, I do not believe they will be very successful. For a single test, yes, it might work and I wish them well. (I live too far away to help.) How many will simply be too eager to get on the trail to bother listening to a 15 minute lecture, though? For a permanent presence at even a single trail head, 365 days per year, 16hours per day this would require 5,864 man hours…really not feasible even for the DEC. Soo, it is something more for “show” not for real effect.

    I would rather a simple registration for all hikers in the DEC countroled areas be instituted much like a fishing/hunting license. Easy to get, and, it would insure everyone entering the ADK’s has a written basic knowledge, not only of food handling and bear dangers, but also of survival techniques. A lot is in a basic hunting/fishing guide, perhaps an expansion of these recomendations?

    • adkDreamer says:

      Licensing never has / never will be a substitute for common sense & experience, has never / never will be an adequate educational tool on an on going basis.

      I have a wallet full of licenses and I renew them every year or as required and I gain no education in the process (Fishing, driver, etc). Point in case: I recently studied and passed the NYS Boating Safety Certificate course and obtained the certificate with flying colors, after of course shelling out $40. 2 weeks later I re-took the exam and failed. I took the Merchant Marine license course (6-pack), owned and sailed a 30′, 7 ton sloop rig in the Chesapeake Bay for years, operated a 50′ 20 ton vessel in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Apparently I have forgotten enough to color my licenses and/or certificates essentially useless – yet I still have ‘valid’ credentials.

      Licensing is at its core a control scheme and a state money grab. If instituted for hiking and/or camping you will observe a huge decline in folks coming to the Adirondacks – they will go elsewhere. If instituted, explain the drop in hospitality expenditures to the folks that rent hotel rooms, camps and all of the other ancillary services that depend upon tourism. Explain to them how the ‘hiking license / camping license’ is good for them.

      There is no substitute for common sense and experience. Period.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree 100%.

  5. James Marco says:

    Thanks, Boreas.
    adkDreamer, you make a good points. I dislike regulated things. Like wearing a helmet for motorcycling. It is a stupid regulation. But, who picks up the tab for head injuries? Loss of work and productivity? And so on. From a statistical perspective, helemets save lives. It is unintelligent NOT to wear one riding a motorcycle. But, a REGULATION that REQUIRES IT? Every regulation on our activities means another loss of freedom. I will not deny that truth.

    From the governments perspective, search and rescue (SR) missions are not an inexpensive activity. Many times a helicopter is needed for real emergencies. Medivac for heart failure, strokes, broken bones, etc. all cost money. Trained people need to be available for SR tasks. Training alone costs time and money. To the point that few proactive activities can be performed. Little trail maintenance, reduced levels of trail blazing, fewer emergency shelters, and so on, all contribute to an increased number of incidents that people simply call 911 for…more SR missions…less proactive work… I am not saying the state should charge for helping people, but a simple license would defray part of the cost. Any outdoorsman license should include some survival skills and a hiking registration.

    This says nothing about the simple lack of training among new hikers. You end up with fewer trails, rougher trails, and untrained people traveling them. Not including the major trails, most are rougher than they were 40 years ago. And most of the time, untrained people simply don’t know when to quit. They keep going till they cannot go anymore, THEN they realize they should have bailed.

    I agree 100% that there is no substitute for common sense and experience. Common sense? well, that is a big variable and we won’t discus that here. But, HOW DO YOU GATHER EXPERIENCE? We were all rookies. Everyone has to get out there to gain experience. Hell, after 50 years of backcountry camping I am still gaining experience. I would support, albeit reluctantly, a 2 hour training session for survival/hiking/LNT skills. But, as you say, that would impact tourism, and I do not suggest this. But federally, they have registrations for sections of the PCT and others. They have very restrictive registration for Baxter in Maine. There are large numbers of hotels/motels/campgrounds, restaurants, shops that thrive there. The registration for hiking only establishes a baseline of skills to keep people out of trouble. If they cannot think about registering before a hike, they likely do not belong in the woods (moral objections aside.) This is a simple thing like getting a fishing license. At least you show enough interest to be prepared. These same arguments were used against hunting licenses and fishing licenses. Nothing new…

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