Keep Hike Safe


Temperatures drop, the air becomes crisp and green leaves turning gold, red and brown are sure signs that fall is here.

Hikers following the beauty of the changing season into the woods need to go prepared.

"The most important thing is to tell people where you plan to hike and then be sure and go there," said Tonto Search and Rescue member Bill Pirtle.

If you do not verbally tell someone, leave a note in your vehicle.

"The days are shorter and hikers often misjudge the time it will take them to get back before sundown," Pirtle said. "It gets very, very dark and when hikers don't have a flashlight and lose the trail that is when they get into trouble."

This year has been "surprisingly slow" for rescues considering the fires did not keep the forests closed long, he said.

Good things to have on a hike • water• compass• map• flashlight• extra batteries• snack food• waterproof matches• poncho• sunglasses• cell phone• GPS• pocketknife• first aid kit• hat• extra clothing

And he is glad.

"I think with cell phones and GPSes people are able to help themselves more," Pirtle said.

Still the Gila County Sheriff's office has conducted a few ‘siren searches.'

People call in lost, but know the general area they are in.

A deputy will drive out to where he thinks is a nearby spot, turn his siren on and ask, ‘Can you hear that?'

"If the hiker can hear the siren, they walk towards the sound and it eliminates the need for Search and Rescue," Pirtle said.

If you are lost, and you are hiking where you told people you would be you can build a fire this time of year.

Carry a poncho or a raincoat in case of thunderstorms. Trash bags can also be used as rain gear or insulation against the wind.

"You can sure get chilled to the bone if you get wet," Pirtle said.

Water, even though it is heavy, at least to begin with, is something you should always carry when hiking.

How much a person needs to consume depends on their physical condition, age, time, temperature and humidity of day. Terrain, elevation and distance are other factors.

"I usually carry a gallon of water," Pirtle said. "By golly, if you don't have it, you are in trouble.

"Dehydration will zap your strength and cloud your thinking," he said.

A person can sustain himself with water from streams, but Pirtle discourages drinking water that can be bacteria-laden unless you purify it with water filters or purification pills.

Keep extra water in your vehicle.

Snakes can be a hazard any time of year, but during the fall and winter if they are out, they are generally warming themselves on a sunny rock.

"If you are lost, but you are where you told people you were going to be, sit still and make yourself comfortable. Somebody will be looking for you," Pirtle said.

Walking around can make you more confused, tired and anxious.

Another valuable thing Pirtle tells children and teens in Youth Education Survival presentations is to carry a whistle -- blowing it is a good way to let people know where you are.

Suppose you are lost and you are not where you told people you would be?

Generally Search and Rescue volunteers can find a lost hiker by first finding the hiker's vehicle then, once the trackers figure out what direction a hiker was headed, they send a plane into the air and teams on the ground trail.

"Build a fire if you can," Pirtle said. A fire can keep you warm and is visible to planes and helicopters with heat-seeking capabilities.

When a family member calls for assistance, they know the condition of the hiker and what he or she was likely to have with them in the forest.

"The backwoods areas are getting smaller and we'll find you," Pirtle said.

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