With wilderness all around, it can be easy to forget that a hike in the mountains is no walk in the park. It can be dangerous for outdoors lovers who lose the trail, become injured or otherwise fail to make it back to their vehicles.
Take the instance last week of a mountain biker who went missing for two days inside the Valles Caldera National Preserve. On Sept. 3, residents and neighbors reported a mountain biker as possibly overdue. Good for the community — it’s clear they are looking out for one another.
Knowing that the rider frequents the Banco Bonita area, National Park Service rangers and staff did a quick search; early Wednesday morning, first responders from a variety of agencies coordinated efforts to find the biker. Just after noon Wednesday, the biker was found with potentially life-threatening injuries. The cyclist was injured on Monday morning and had spent two nights in the preserve with no shelter and little to eat.
It was a superb job by rescue agencies — including the park service, La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue and New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue. But the incident brings up important concerns about the use of the outdoors. Our public lands are wild, with risks associated with nature.
Visitors should make an itinerary, with intended path and start and end times. Give that to a friend or relative, with instructions on who to call if a person fails to get back in time. Take enough supplies to survive overnight, even if the hike or bike trip is just for a few hours. Especially as our crisp September days turn cooler, be sure to have something warm for the nights and fire-making materials. A compass never goes amiss, either.
Because of improvements in technology, those who go out alone also can carry devices that allow them to be located quickly. Personal locator beacons are reasonable, with reputable brands selling for as little as $100. A less technical system of tracking people in and out of isolated areas could be useful, too. Remember the books where hikers or bikers sign in and out, offering an itinerary? Those allow rangers to see if someone hasn’t checked back in and for searchers, provide places to start looking.
We are fortunate to live near wild country — in Santa Fe, we can drive 20 minutes or so to head for the hills. Perhaps because access is so convenient, it is easy to forget that the mountains are not a neighborhood park. It’s not uncommon to see hikers who venture out as if going for a stroll. They aren’t carrying water or a jacket in case the weather changes, much less food for the night.
Getting to the outdoors is one of the great attractions of living in Northern New Mexico. But even a short hike can turn deadly — and that’s something we forget at our risk. The risk is not just to the individual who might be hurt or lost, either. First responders who have to head to the backcountry looking for someone who didn’t come in on time also face danger — those of us who love communing with nature should do all we can to ensure their safety as well.
Take adequate food and water. Let people know you are out alone and when you are expected back. Don’t let a walk in the woods turn into tragedy.