As the unprecedented rainy weather gives way to the warm sunshine and blue skies California is known for, thousands of people come out of the winter hibernation and take to the backroads and hiking trails. The lure and attraction to the backcountry doesn’t come without a need to ensure safety first. Even short day hikes have the potential to turn into life threatening situations. Each year, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department responds to and has to rescue hikers off the local mountains on a weekly basis. The following are some basic tips to ensure a safe and fun hike.
Always plan ahead for your hike – Know where you’re going and the routes you’re going to take. Always plan ahead a set distance you want to hike. During the hike set limits and boundaries. Never hike beyond your capabilities or the capability of those hiking with you. Once you plan a hike, let others know where you are going and how long you will be gone so they know when and where to have someone start looking for you. Regardless of how beautiful the hike might be and how enticing it might be to explore, stick to your plan and don’t hike off designated trails.
Never hike alone – It’s always better and safer to hike with a friend or two. If something happens, one of you can summon assistance. If you must hike alone, make sure you clearly plan your route, let someone know what route your taking, and plan check in points along the way.
Take plenty of drinking water – One of the fastest ways to get into trouble while hiking is dehydration. Many hikers think a standard 16 ounce water bottle suffices for a several hour hike. The problem with this is during a hike, the body sweats which diminishes the bodily fluids and salt. Sweating out salts from your body prevents it from properly regulating liquid. You need to replace that sweat with water and plenty of electrolytes. So not only plenty of water is needed but also plenty of electrolytes replenishing snacks and fluids.
Dress appropriately - Riverside County is known for vast differences in topography and weather. Mt. San Jacinto peak sits at 10,833 feet above sea level. This is a stark contrast from the desert floor of the nearest major city of Palm Springs, which sits at 479 feet above sea level. Weather temperatures can vary from 30 to 40 degrees between the two. Once the sun goes down, mountain temperatures drop rapidly and can be significantly different from the hot desert temperatures. Always ensure you bring a jacket and pants in the event you get stuck on the mountain after sunset.
Ensure your properly equipped – While a hike usually is intended to begin and end during daylight, you should always carry a separate flash light and not rely on your cell phone. It is always recommended to take a small pack on day hikes. In that pack you should always carry things like a small flash light with extra batteries, plenty of water, snacks, a portable cell phone charger and cable, signaling mirror (used to reflect sunlight), compass, map, basic medication in case you encounter poisonous plants, a signaling device such as a whistle or air horn, etc. If you can, a portable GPS device with electronic alerting capability is always advised for those venturing further into the wilderness.
If you find yourself lost – If you find yourself lost in the wilderness and in need of assistance, the first rule of thumb is to find a safe place to stay put. If you have cell service, call 911 and allow the dispatcher to obtain your GPS coordinates from your phone. Once those coordinates are obtained by Search and Rescue resources, it is absolutely critical you don’t depart that area. The coordinates is where Search and Rescue resources will start looking for you. Understand the further into the backcountry you get it may take longer for resources to find you. Rest assured, as long as your coordinates are known and you’ve asked for help, help will be on the way. It may take several hours for them to reach you but wandering away from where you said you were increases that time and decreases likelihood of getting you the help you need fast enough.
Educate – Above all else, take the time to educate yourself on the hazards of being ill prepared. Hiking is one of the greatest ways to connect with nature and can be a relaxing outdoor activity. With proper preparation and education you can ensure you have a great time and don’t find yourself needing to be rescued.
These tips and suggestions are focused more on daily hiking trips. For longer overnight trips in the backcountry, additional preparation and planning is advised. For more information on hiking safety, you can contact the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit (https://www.rmru.org/faqs/faqs.htm ), Riverside County Sheriff’s Desert Search and Rescue Unit (https://www.dssar.org/ ) or the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Cabazon Station (951-922-7200) or Hemet Station (951-791-3400).
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