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Let people know (where you're going)

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 7:59 am
by AlmostThere
I just got back from a Search and Rescue that reinforced the old piece of advice that you should always leave your itinerary with someone before you go. What is not often said - make the information you leave as detailed as possible.

We were looking for four males because they had told their mother they would check in with her at a couple of points along their trip. Their itinerary was five days - over Piute Pass, Sally Keyes Lake, then south to Cedar Grove. (Those of you who know the area already see where this is going, right?) They did not make a check in. They were late getting out. Mom was freaking. Mom also had NO INFORMATION - well, she did, but it was all confused, and confused information is in a way worse than none. They'd driven in the dark and she couldn't remember where she and a friend dropped them off!

Point Last Seen is VERY IMPORTANT, especially when you are ending your hike in a different jurisdiction - important to SAR, that is. We have not a lot of resources (cutbacks happen) and miles and miles of high country between entry and exit point on the wilderness permit. In this case we had three potential SAR actions - Inyo, Fresno County/Sierra NF, and Kings Canyon NP. We were given a description of what sounded like Edison Lake as the dropoff - within 24 hours documentation was found at North Lake that the group had registered there to camp the night before their search. (These are both at the end of 168 - which does not actually cross the range. Sort of an important piece of info - she said 168, but could not verify which one, probably didn't know there were two. They came from Southern California.) The confusion on the part of the folks dropping them off is a reminder that the non-outdoorsy folks we ask to help us will not always know how to describe where you are going or what you are taking - so help them out by leaving the details on paper they can hand to an officer.

Had these young men not taken care to do the safe thing and finally exited the wilderness as we were launching our search from Florence, things could have been very different. We would have wasted a lot of resources and time not having a clear idea of where they might be.

We always tell people to write down your itinerary to leave with family/friends - I'm going to suggest some additional info. Give them recent pictures! Give them a list of make/color of tents and backpacks. Also size and make/model of boot - we have trackers. A list of clothing you are taking, colors and sizes, so if we find a discarded/left behind shirt, we know there's a good chance it belongs to the person we're looking for and can focus on the area. Heck, stand there at the trailhead all geared up and have them take a picture with their cell phone! We would have had an easy time of knowing where to start if we'd had a shot of the four standing in front of a trailhead sign at North Lake. The pic could have been sent directly to a sheriff, who could have redistributed it far and wide. SAR volunteers could have been showing the pic to people on the trail.

If you decide to stray from what's on your wilderness permit, get a new wilderness permit and cancel the old. Some folks just ignore the quotas and do that. When looking for a lost person the first thing we pull is the permit. Theories we had included that the folks had just gone on a different route because no one questioned had seen the four on the route listed, so we questioned if they had even gone out there at all. Additionally, if you do decide to go somewhere other than backpacking because conditions or plans change, don't forget to call your family/friend to tell them.

Pre-planning helps! Know weather patterns, terrain, etc before you go - research what you need and how many miles you, in your current condition, might do. These guys had assumed summer and not packed cold weather or rain gear. It did pour down rain on them, twice, and they had to delay to build a fire and dry off. They did a lot of things right, FYI - but the things they did not do had us out in helicopters.

Our SAR teams and the various jurisdictions really work well together. We had two counties and the National Park Service on this one. Most of us county SAR folk are volunteers, with a few sheriff deputies - who are often also volunteering time. Have mercy on us. We need to know where you entered and where you plan to exit, what you are carrying, and we will come and get you even if you are determined to do your own thing wherever and whenever without a thought or expectation that we'll search anyway. We still have open cases on the books and still (years later) search the areas people have gone missing for clues or remains. Do yourself and your families the favor of listing out your itinerary, your gear and your dropoff and pickup points. We can only go on the information we receive! So make it good, clear, accurate information!

P.S... this is not a thread to bag on the stupidity of lost people. Most lost people are not stupid. Just not prepared. This includes the experienced hunters, backpackers and others who have been hurt or deceased while out there... you cannot be prepared for some of the things that happen, just as prepared as possible... and judging people for their behavior when the unpredictable happens is to judge without complete information. Remember that sane and rational people can be made stupid by dehydration, hypothermia, and just the panic of being lost despite whatever measures they took - lost person behavior does not correspond to the behavior of people in familiar surroundings, and is not a reflection on the intellect or level of preparedness of the lost.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:48 am
by Carne_DelMuerto
Good advice. For my annual trip (which is a bunch of guys) I send out a PDF like this to all the wives. We aren't doing anything too tough or long, but it gives peace of mind to all our partners at the least.
Screen shot 2011-07-10 at 9.42.49 AM.png

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 10:52 am
by windknot
Thanks, this is good advice. On a solo backpacking trip I took last year, I changed the itinerary from four to five days at the last moment. Although I told my girlfriend about the change, she forgot about it and instead referenced the email I had sent her with my detailed, 4-day itinerary. When Day 4 came and went, she panicked and called my mother. They were about to call the Forest Service to report a missing hiker when I got down to the trailhead in the afternoon of Day 5 and found their voicemail messages.

Carne, that's a really nice map. I'm going to try to do something like this for my girlfriend/mother from now on.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 11:17 am
by rlown
Nice write-up , AT.

I always leave an itinerary with my wife and encourage those I go with to do the same. But, if we're our usual group of 4, I tell those at home not to call and report for 2 days after our return date. We're either having a really great time or something is too wrong to fix by that point. If the group is only 2, i tell them to report after one day of no call from us. Generally, in the larger group, you can deal with the problem, and send a runner. I do understand how those at home get anxious, hence my instructions. I've found that based on how "in shape" we are for a trip, our plans change dramatically, but usually we're still camped near the main trail or the lake that we stated on our permits.

I do try and detail my camp choices and alternate options. Not like our wives really can understand the map they're looking at, but that's because they don't really backpack.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 12:46 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Sometimes I leave home with three or four alternative trips, not sure what will be available when I go to get the permit. If I have cell reception, I call once I know which trip I will take. I also take an addressed stamped envelope with me so if I cannot call, I drop a letter in the mailbox. I plan my trips on a master spreadsheet, so I print out the alternatives to leave with family- then all I have to do is leave a short message saying- I am doing "Plan B" or whatever. I am going out tomorrow, so thanks for reminding me!

Another thing I do no long trips, is leave a note on the inside of my windshield that says that my car is NOT abandoned, please do not tow, and I will be out on "date-xxx". I left my car a month at North Lake last year.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:38 pm
by copeg
Excellent advice! And excellent even more so to hear this from the perspective of a member of a search and rescue. Might be as good an chance as any to get advice as to whether what I do is good practice or not from a search and rescue perspective: in addition to my hard-lined itinerary, I list all alternatives - be them camps, day hikes, possibilities, etc... together with an estimated probability for each (eg 10% chance I'll summit 'x' mountain, 90% chance I'll camp at lake 'y', 30% probability I will day hike to lake 'z', etc...), which gives me liberty to explore a bit beyond my hard-lined plan and know that back at home that chance has been written down (I guess one could go so far as to coloring a map based upon probabilities, and follow that map in the field (eg if there is no probability its a no go))

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:52 pm
by AlmostThere
More details are good - alternates and so forth listed out would definitely be a plus, we'd still have to cover a lot of area but that would let us know how to direct our efforts. WD's methods are also good. Even if the letter showed up a day into the search, it would potentially save a day of wasted efforts and helicopter fuel - we could redeploy or alert another county's SAR team to get out there.

Our main resources are air reconnaissance and interviewing people coming down/off trail - once we send out a team on foot, we get such spotty radio signal in the high country that we can't easily recall that resource. And sadly other people are poor sources of information. Most info we get from hikers is inconsistent or wrong. Folks just aren't that observant unless making the effort to be.

We have a few helos available to us but sometimes have none - it depends on where else and how badly the helo is needed. If they are available they will go out (in daytime only) and look for the tents reported from the air - another point in favor of staying put when lost. They'll also sight groups of packers and sometimes are able to land and ask questions.

Our ground teams (in our county, we are the only ones we know of who do this - Yosemite doesn't search at night either) will go out searching at night just to get a jump on finding the person. If you imagine a Last Point Seen, then draw a circle with a ten mile radius, you have our assumption of a search area on day 1 - the average person is capable of about ten miles in a day and stops at night. The next day that area widens considerably - the circle has a twenty mile radius, and a lot more ground to cover. So very quickly we deplete our resources looking for a lost camper or fisherman, or other person who hasn't intended to go long distances but has gotten turned around and can't figure out where his car is. We are getting very good at night navigation!

For backpackers the scenario gets more complicated. Detailed information as to route taken and destinations intended help a lot - so does info about the hikers themselves. If we know the hikers carry climbing gear and can scale things that's going to be a different search than for three guys who go once a year, carry a six pack apiece, plus three pounds of fishing gear and dry ice to get the trophy trout home. Air support is more critical because there are so many more miles to cover, in more remote terrain. Knowing that someone routinely navigates cross country vs. sticking to trails helps - our plan this last trip was stationing teams at trail junctions to question hikers along the JMT, which was the main leg of their itinerary. I was hightailing it up to the Sally Keyes cutoff when the group was found.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 5:54 pm
by sparky
This year i gave a close trusted friend...not family member......a write up I did about my stregnths weaknesses and experience as a back country traveler. That way this information can be handed off by a calm individual. I do a lot of solo hiking, so nobody really knows any of this.

This document, like a will, was strange to write up. I am glad that info is out there. I also hand out detailed itenerary of course.

Re: Let people know

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:33 pm
by dave54
Unfortunately, on most of my solo off-trail hikes I do not have an itinerary -- I decide enroute and change my mind frequently. :)

Re: Let people know

Posted: Mon Jul 11, 2011 10:02 am
by AlmostThere
dave54 wrote:Unfortunately, on most of my solo off-trail hikes I do not have an itinerary -- I decide enroute and change my mind frequently. :)
Not sure why you even bothered to post.

We'll still go looking for you, btw. We do that regardless of foolishness, death wishes, or just general disregard for taxpayer dollars. In Yosemite, you'll even get a bill for services rendered.