A Typical Rescue Scenario

Friday, April 15, 2011
Earlier this week, Mountain Rescue Officers and Volunteers rescued two stranded hikers from a cliff-face in Red Rock.  It was a gorgeous day, they weren't hiking a challenging trail, and they only planned on hiking for a couple of hours.  As they left their car, both hikers were wearing shorts and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, they grabbed a harness, and had about 4 liters of water between the two of them.  As the pair hiked into one of the canyons and scurried up a cliff face, they found themselves in a precarious position.  They could no longer climb up, they were nervous about climbing back down, and they were running out of day light very quickly.

This is the type of situation that our Unit sees far too often.  Hikers leave their cars with only the best-case scenario in mind.  It's a beautiful day, so what on earth could go wrong?

In the case of these two hikers, they did a couple of things right:
  1. Before leaving for their hike, they told friends and family where they were going.  They had a plan, they stuck to it, and someone else knew about it.  This is good.
  2. When the pair found themselves in a precarious position, they didn't attempt to do something that would harm them.  They knew that down-climbing could potentially hurt them, so instead of trying anyway, they found a giant ledge and stayed put.
  3. Both hikers carried a cell phone.  In this case, they were able to get cell phone reception and call for help directly from their location.
  4. They took water with them.
Since hindsight is 20/20, let's look at some of the things that this pair did wrong:
  1. The only clothing protecting them from the elements were shorts and a t-shirt.
  2. They didn't take food with them.
  3. The amount of water that they carried wasn't substantial for an extended stay.  In warm weather, hikers should consume 4 liters (or one gallon) of water in a day to avoid dehydration.
  4. Both hikers had cell phones and both cell phones were turned on during the duration of the hike.
  5. The hikers picked an easy trail, but deviated from that trail without knowing where they were going.  They ended up scurrying up the side of a cliff-face without a plan to get down.
  6. Neither hiker considered a worse-case scenario.
When these two hikers decided to pick a safe place to stay put and call for help, the sun was beginning to set.  They made their first call at about 3:30pm.  Rescue personnel didn't make contact with the pair until about 9:00pm and it took nearly three hours to conduct the straight-forward rescue.  Although these hikers had cell phones and were able to get reception, it still takes time to get personnel and equipment to the location.  While the hikers waited, temperatures plummeted and wind speeds accelerated.  When rescue personnel finally reached the hikers, they were uninjured, but both complained of being very cold.
  • What would've happened if the pair needed to use their cell phones, but the batteries had died?
  • What would've happened if the pair was unable to get cell phone reception?
  • What would their night had been like if their calls for help were unsuccessful?
This story is being shared because this is a typical rescue scenario.  Hikers and climbers leave the parking lots of Red Rock and other recreational areas around the valley every day without considering a worse-case scenario.  Extra clothes, food, and water don't weigh that much.  Stuff this extra gear in a day pack and throw it on your back.  Carry a survival kit so that you're able to start a fire.  This provides warmth and a signal for rescuers.  If you're not using your cell phone, turn it off.  Even though you're not using your phone, the battery drains quickly as the phone continually searches for a signal.  Research the area that you'll be visiting.  Familiarize yourself with the trail that you'll be hiking on along with the surrounding area.  If you decide to leave the trail, have a back-up plan.  Always know where you're going and how to get out.  And most importantly, let people know where you're going, what your plan is, when you think you'll be back, and stick to that plan.  It's difficult to predict whether or not things will go wrong, but if they do, it's good to be prepared.
  • Two liters of water weighs about 4.5 lbs.
  • Light-weight jacket weighs about 1 lb.
  • Pants weigh about 1 lb.
  • Food such as a sandwich, fruit, and energy bars weigh about 1-2 lbs.
  • Survival kit weighs less than 1 lb.
  • Researching a strategy and having a Plan B weighs nothing.
For additional safety information and survival tips, go here.