ATLANTA, October 5, 2012 — No one ever plans to get lost in the woods, but it does sometimes happen. Each year, Georgia’s park rangers spend numerous hours searching for hikers who did not return on time, slipped on waterfalls, got off the trail or encountered other problems.
“Most of the time, our guests are just running late or they’ve gotten slightly off course,” said Danny Tatum, manager of Tallulah Gorge State Park and chief of the Department of Natural Resources’ Search and Rescue Team. “And sometimes they’ve forgotten to call home. But occasionally people really are in a bad situation and need help from rescue personnel.”
With so many people heading to the mountains for leaf watching this fall, park rangers have offered the following tips for a fun and safe journey. To find trails ranging from easy, paved paths to more challenging hikes, visit GeorgiaStateParks.org.
Safe Hiking Tips
• Avoid hiking alone because the “buddy system” is safer during any type of activity. If traveling with a group, never stray from the group. If hiking alone, pick a well traveled trail.
• Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Don’t forget to check in with them when you get back.
• Stay on marked trails. Making shortcuts and “bushwhacking” causes erosion and greatly increases your chance of becoming lost. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.
• Never climb on waterfalls. A high number of injuries and deaths occur on waterfalls and slippery, wet rocks.
• Always carry quality rain gear and turn back in bad weather. If you become wet or cold, it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible, avoiding hypothermia.
• Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Today’s hikers can choose from numerous fabrics that wick moisture, dry quickly or conserve heat. Many experienced hikers wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture, while carrying a fleece pullover and waterproof jacket in a daypack.
• All hikers should carry a whistle, which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling. Three short blasts is a sign of distress.
• Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink. Frequent hikers might consider buying a water filter or water purifying tablets at an outdoor supply store.
• Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location. Telling rescue personnel that you’re lost by a big tree won’t help much as telling which trailhead you started from and how long you’ve been hiking.
• Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.
• Invest in good hiking socks and boots such as those found at sporting goods stores. Avoid blisters by carrying “moleskin” (available at drug stores) and applying it as soon as you feel a hot spot on your feet. Available in the foot care section of drug stores, moleskin is like felt that sticks to your skin.
• Wear bright colors. Don’t dress children in camouflage. Keep dogs on a leash because they sometimes become injured or lost too.
• Keep dogs on a leash because they sometimes become injured or lost too.
Carry an Emergency Kit
Each hiker should have these items:
- First-aid kit
- Small flashlight with extra batteries
- Energy food
- Brightly colored bandana
- Trash bag (preferably a bright color, such as “pumpkin bags” sold in autumn). Poke a hole for your head and wear it as a poncho to stay dry.
Especially for Children
- Talk to children about what to do if they become lost, even if in the city.
- Teach children that they won’t get into trouble for becoming lost.
- Reassure children that people (and possibly dogs and helicopters) will look for them if they become lost. Do not hide from searchers; answer their calls.
- Do not run. Instead, “hug a tree” and make a comfortable “nest.” This prevents wandering even further.
- Do not be afraid of animals or strange noises. If something is scary, blow the whistle.
- Come up with a password that a child will respond to if a stranger needs to pick them up. Searchers can use this password.
What to Do If You Are Lost
- Stay in one place.
- Make shelter.
- Stay warm and dry.
- Be visible and heard.
- If helicopters are searching overhead, seek an opening in the forest. Lie down so you look bigger from the air.