(ABC4) – Getting lost in the wilderness can be a nightmare scenario for anyone venturing into the outdoors. Being surrounded by unfamiliar terrain and subjected to a combination of weather, exposure, temperature changes, wildlife, and, at night, darkness, can be a terrifying scenario for those lost in the wild.
Scott Hammond, who works as a professor at Utah State University and has a deep background in search and rescue, wants those who are lost to know one thing: others are aware of them and looking for them.
“I always tell people, they’re never lost alone,” Hammond says to ABC4.
Hammond and his canine, Boo the Wonder Dog, work primarily with Utah Country Search and Rescue, but have also chipped in to help out other counties in the Beehive State with their recovery efforts. He has ventured out on more than 400 rescues and has become an authority on the topic, writing a book titled “Lessons of the Lost: Finding Hope and Resilience in Work, Life, and the Wilderness.”
With a bevy of search and rescue experience, in addition to dozens of interviews with rescued folks for his book, Hammond has learned a few essential tips for anyone who finds themselves lost and, more than likely, scared, in the wilderness.
One of the most important guidelines in getting started on a successful recovery comes down to timing. Hammond recommends that anyone who suspects a loved one may be lost in the outdoors should notify their county’s Search and Rescue unit sooner than later. That also goes for those who can call in their own search party on a cell phone.
After doing more than 130 calls for Utah County alone last year, Hammond says timing was essential in helping those lost people out.
“It was a really busy year but a lot of the people called too late, they waited until it was a really big problem, and if they call early on, we can avoid the problem altogether,” Hammond says. “We do not mind going up and helping somebody down the mountain, they don’t have to be injured, they don’t have to be in trouble. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening situation, and we don’t want them to wait until it is.”
Another big factor that can greatly improve the chances of a person’s recovery or even survival starts before the person goes out in the wild. Hammond says knowledge and preparation, especially in the kind of gear and clothing an adventurer brings makes a huge difference. Even simple things, such as an inexpensive rain poncho can be a lifesaving tool. He’s seen it firsthand.
“A few years ago, I interviewed a woman for my book and she had a $2 poncho that she bought at a dollar store. And it ended up saving her life,” Hammond says. “She was out for five days and it rained, and she needed a way to carry firewood, and she had a broken leg. She wasn’t terribly mobile and under this $2 poncho, it kept the wind off of her calf, gave her some degree of warmth, kept her dry, and saved her life.”
Hammond says the proper equipment doesn’t need to be cumbersome either. It’s very possible to bring everything you need for a trip outside in less than a two-pound load.
He also doesn’t want those who are lost to be afraid of the expenses of being recovered. According to Hammond, all but one county in Utah, Grand County, offers search and rescue free of charge. Those who execute the rescues, including canine teams, ground search parties, and even helicopter pilots, are quite generous with their time and resources, says Hammond. The only reason Moab sometimes charges those who were lost due to irresponsibility is because of the lack of available resources and personnel in the rural area.
For Hammond, and Boo the Wonder Dog, the gratification of finding someone who is lost, scared, and more than likely feeling alone is the reason why he and other volunteers frequently answer the call and give up their free time to find a person and provide that figurative and literal light in the darkness.
He remembers one particular rescue of a lost mountain biker last year that drove that point home.
“He was just so grateful to have lived, and to have somebody who knew about him, even a stranger who’s calling him by name,” Hammond recalls the man as saying. “And, you know, that’s that illumination that we all need in our lives. We need light, and especially in the wilderness.”