Wasatch Search and Rescue: Don’t head to the backcountry without these things

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(ABC4) — On February 18, The unified Police Department rescued three snowmobilers stuck in the Oquirrh Mountains. One person was transported to the hospital with hypothermia.

More Utahns are hiking and enjoying the great outdoors this year due to low snowfall, according to Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue.

Unfortunately, this increase has also come with a slew of cold-related rescues, deaths, and injuries this year.

Even with less snow, it’s important to come prepared for less than ideal conditions on your outdoor adventure, especially when recreating in the backcountry.

Kam Kohler, Commander for Wasatch Search and Rescue, provided ABC4 with a list of the basics of what people should bring with them and know before heading out.

At the top of the list is knowledge, he says, is the baseline.

“There are a lot of people that go into the backcountry without any knowledge of where they’re going, what they’re going to be faced with, what kind of equipment or gear they’re going to need,” he says.

“If you don’t have the knowledge, get it first before venturing into the backcountry,” he says. Once you have a little bit of knowledge, that can help you know what other things you need.

This is important because “if you’re going in the backcountry, especially in the winter, a poor decision could cost you your life,” Kohler told ABC4. “You don’t want to risk your life because of lack of knowledge. If you have the knowledge, that’s going to help you say, “I need to be more prepared.”

Kohler says good questions to ask yourself are: “When the sun goes down, what are the temperatures I’m going to be faced with? Am I really going to be able to hike into this peak and back out in the hour that I’ve allocated, or is it going to take me five hours?”

Next, proper clothing for the excursion is important. This is also something that people need to plan before leaving home.

“Are you prepared for the unexpected? What if this trip takes longer? Am I prepared for a storm?  Nobody expects to get stranded, but they must be prepared if they do,” Kohler says.

Kohler says another necessity when recreating outdoors is something to start a fire, and it’s always important to have a backup method.

For example, if matches become wet, you may need a second source, he says. “At search and rescue, we have all of our guys have at least two or three ways to start a fire.”

He says if you can start a fire, it can get through pretty much any night in the backcountry.

The next necessity Kohler lists is food and water.

When it comes to food and water, you always need to assume the worst, he says. “In other words, if you think you’re going to be in and out of there in three or four hours, be prepared for the worst case. What if I get stuck and need to spend the night? Am I going to survive on this Snickers bar as my only meal until tomorrow morning?”

In terms of water, Kohler advises melting snow over a fire before drinking because eating snow requires your body to consume energy to warm it up. He recommends taking prepackaged, high-calorie food and avoiding anything that needs to be cooked.

Shelter is also important, he says. Know how to create a makeshift shelter from things like pine boughs or lightweight blankets.

Finally, tell someone where you’re going he says.

“Always tell somebody where you’re going. This is where I’m headed, and you can expect me back at ten o’clock tonight. That way, if you don’t show up, there is somebody that can alert authorities,” Kohler stated. “If you tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back, it goes a long way in cutting down rescue time. Tell somebody your plan and then stick to it.”

Kohler says it’s important to bring enough equipment where you could stay the night if needed.

“Many times when you’re out in the backcountry in the winter, you overestimate your ability to get in and out quickly. You overestimate the ease with which you are getting in and out,” he tells ABC4.”If you go up a trail in summer, you can go in a mile and back out in half an hour, no big deal, but if in heavy snow up to your knees, the trip might take you five hours.”

Kohler says it happens every week that people go into the backcountry for recreation, and something keeps them from getting back in the expected amount of time.

“Something happens- their snowmobile breaks down, or a storm comes in, and they don’t know the way out because they can’t see,” he says. “There are a lot of factors in the winter that can cause people to unexpectedly have to spend the night.”

However, he says if you have the things listed above, you will be prepared to spend the night outdoors.

He also recommends checking several resources: Utah Avalanche Center for avalanche and snow forecasts, weather forecasts, and sites that can educate you on things like starting a fire and how to layer clothing properly for the elements.

“Like it or not, when you leave the trailhead, your life is now in the balance of the decisions you already made, so do you want to be more prepared or less prepared?” he says. “Have the knowledge so that when you go into a situation, you’re prepared for it and not just make a lot of assumptions, which get people in a lot of trouble.”

Bryan Silvey, Owner of Wilderness Access Outfitters in Heber, says it’s important to have a good plan of where you’re going and letting somebody know where you’re going. He also recommends traveling with a partner.

“I think those are three very important things before you even step out the door,” Silvey tells ABC4.

He also recommends bringing things like an extra pair of gloves and socks and something to start a fire with just in case you get stuck.

“Having a shovel too is always good in case your snowmobile gets stuck,” he says.

Silvey says it’s important to know how to use your gear before leaving home and make sure the equipment that needs it has batteries.

He says it’s dangerous to have the attitude of, “I’ll figure it out while I’m out there.” Having that knowledge before you even get out there of how to use equipment fast and effectively.”

Prepare for equipment not to function properly and bring “some sort of kit where you can repair anything you might need to in case of an equipment failure.”

Silvey also says always be prepared to self rescue.

“Don’t rely on somebody else to rescue you, whether it be another group passing by or Search and Rescue. We want to minimize the risk that we put those people in as well, so not making them go out in the middle of the night to search for you. That puts strain on the search and rescue crews, and it’s dangerous,” he states. “Don’t expect to be rescued if something does go wrong, and have the tools that you need to give yourself the best chance of a self-rescue.”

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