By Tod Westlake and Heidi Wagner
Several weeks ago there was a news story about an Englishman, on vacation in Australia, who had blithely wandered into the outback — only to become lost for twelve days. Upon his rescue, the first thing he said to the press was, "I'm an idiot." The man went on to say that he had done quite a bit of hiking in England, and that, everything being so close together in that small country, he figured he would eventually chance upon a small town where he could reorient himself and have a little lunch. Instead, his "lunch" over a nearly two-week period consisted of insects and other unpalatable fare. When you're really hungry, you'll eat whatever is at hand, apparently.
This story, admittedly, is a somewhat extreme example of what can happen to an unprepared hiker. And while there aren't vast stretches of desolate landscape along the Shawangunk Ridge like there are in the Australian outback, it is possible, if you are unprepared, to find yourself in a dangerous situation. Taking the time to do a little planning is extremely important if you don't want to end up like our happy-go-lucky Englishman.
Before your hike, learn about the terrain and obtain a map of the trails. Choose a hike that is appropriate for your physical capabilities. Check the weather and pack rain gear or extra layers for the "worst case scenario." Weather can change rapidly on the Shawangunk Ridge, not only in the form of rain, lightening storms, and dips in temperatures, but also intense heat and exposure. Once on top of the ridge, especially at Sam's Point Preserve, there is little shade or shelter from the elements.
Find out when it will get dark and plan your hike accordingly. Many visitors to Sam's Point start out on the trail too late for the hike they have selected, and find themselves marooned in the dark and unable to find their way back. Tell someone where you are going, the trails you plan to hike, and when you intend to return.
If you start as a group, hike as a group. Pace yourself, according to the slowest person.
Know when to turn back. If the weather conditions, fatigue, or an injury is affecting a member of your group, return to your starting point.
Remember to take along extra water for yourself (everyone drinks more water than they anticipate). Drink even when you are not thirsty. Hiking in the hot sun can take its toll even on the strongest of hikers, so it is important to stay well hydrated. Do not drink from streams you encounter, no matter how clean and inviting it looks. Water throughout the State of New York may contain a parasite called "giardia," which can cause severe intestinal problems. Do not forget to pack extra water for your dog. Water along the trails disappears quickly in hot temperatures.
Take the necessary steps to ensure that your trip will be a happy one. Bringing a backpack with a few provisions will go a long way toward keeping you comfortable should you twist an ankle and find yourself stranded temporarily. Be sure you are equipped with the following items:
- Warm clothing and rain gear
- Proper footwear
- Extra food and water
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Matches/fire starters
- First aid kit
- Pocket knife
- Cell phone
If you do become lost or injured when hiking, try and remain calm. Panic only results in poor decisions. Before darkness approaches, observe your surroundings and any landmarks that might be useful to others who may attempt to locate you. If you decide you are unable to find your way back or have a serious medical condition, call 911 on your cell phone. Most importantly, stay where you are! The Emergency Management Center may be able to determine your location through your cell phone, which could help guide search and rescue efforts.
You are responsible for yourself, so hike responsibly. It's always better to be a little over-prepared with items you don't end up using, then it is to be stuck, shivering and thirsty, waiting for a rescue team to come and pluck you off the mountain. Hiking on the ridge can be a highly pleasurable experience. A little planning on your part will ensure that it remains that way.
For more information on how you can hike safe go to www.hikesafe.com and the New York State DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov.
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