On day hikes, prepare for the worst | VailDaily.com
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On day hikes, prepare for the worst

Charles Agar
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesMary Wentzel of Carbondale hugged family friends at the Lost Man trailhead 15 miles east of Aspen on Oct. 3 as Mountain Rescue Aspen personnel searched for a group of missing hikers that included her granddaughter, Gillian Wentzel, 9.
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In the wake of last week’s nail-biting search and rescue of a woman and three young children who spent the night lost above treeline near Independence Pass, mountain rescue officials urge fall hikers to be prepared.

“At this time of year the most important thing is to prepare for any kind of weather,” said Hugh Zuker, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen, which led the rescue of the group last week.

Mountain weather changes quickly, he said, and even though it might be sunny when you set out, it could be snowing hard in a matter of hours. Zuker urged hikers to gear up for inclement weather and wear good boots and bring rain gear and warm clothes.

“Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when to expect you back,” Zuker said. “And give yourself a lot of leeway with plans.

“Most overdo calls we get are people who grossly underestimate the time it takes to do something,” he said, “or try to cover unrealistic distances.”

Zuker also recommends checking in with a local mountain guide service or stopping at an outdoor shop, and asking questions before setting out. Good maps and a good plan, he said, are vital.

And, visitors to the Rockies need to consider the change in altitude when planning. It can take up to a few weeks to acclimatize to the mountain air; lowlanders should not overdo it.

“Even on a short hike,” Zuker said, “Plan on being out overnight.”

He said it is important to think of what would happen if someone gets hurt on a hike. Serious injuries mean the victim has to stay put, and staying put means they’ll get cold fast.

“It is important to have enough equipment to keep warm and dry overnight,” Zuker said. He recommends bringing a bivvy bag or a poncho large enough to stay dry under, as well as water purification tablets, a flashlight with batteries and enough warm, dry clothes ” including a hat and gloves, and rain gear.

And it is important to stay hydrated. Carry high energy snacks (trail mix, fruit, candy or an energy bar) and enough water (two quarts per day).

Zuker said it is important to bring a whistle, which helps alert searchers in the event a group gets lost or a member is injured. A whistle works after your voice gives out, he said.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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