Don’t become unwitting star of sensational search and rescue story
There are safer ways to achieve fame than starring in your own survival story.
That’s a lesson a Pennsylvania woman learned recently after a trip into the Arizona backcountry with her husband and 10-year-old son went awry.
Karen Klein spent roughly 24-hours in the snowy wilderness during a desperate, 26-mile hike to search for help after the family’s car got stuck near the Grand Canyon.
When Klein’s sister told a news outlet the survival trek included eating twigs and drinking urine those details propelled the tale to the top of the national news cycle.
But people who are concerned about their own wellbeing would be advised to study the seemingly mundane aspects of Klein’s story.
That’s because when it comes to backcountry emergencies it’s often overlooked precautions that turn out to be the most important details.
According to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office the family got stuck on a Forest Service Road on Thursday.
Klein, 47, set off on foot to find help. She hiked through snow to a road that was closed for the winter and eventually reached a shuttered, seasonal structure in Grand Canyon National Park.
At the same time her husband and son walked to an area where they could get a cellular signal and called for help.
Had the family stuck together at the vehicle they could have all been rescued together and Klein wouldn’t have had to endure her dangerous trek.
Such lessons are especially important during winter when it’s easy to get into backcountry trouble even close to town.
Some of the most common areas for search and rescue in Washoe County are Peavine Mountain and Dog Valley, two popular destinations within a short drive of Reno.
“A family goes off-roading to look for a sledding spot … they end up sliding off the road and getting stuck,” said Sgt. Jereme Wormington, commander of Washoe County Search and Rescue.
As recently as Christmas night searchers headed up Peavine in order to rescue two men who attempted to drive a truck to the top of the snowy peak, became lost and got stuck, Wormington said.
“If you are trying to go up a hill and your car keeps sliding out … don’t push it,” he said. “Know your limits, know your vehicle limits.”
David Spencer, commander of Carson City Search and Rescue, said Ash and Kings canyons, just west of the city, are hot spots for rescue missions.
Spencer said when people enter the backcountry unprepared a nice, winter day in the outdoors can turn bad quickly.
“The air is crisp and it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun,” Spencer said. “You start out and end up getting stuck somewhere and you are there overnight.”
Spencer and Wormington offered similar advice to avoid getting caught in a dangerous backcountry predicament.
In general, they said people heading out should take some basic measures before leaving to enhance their chances of a safe, timely return.
Make sure to travel in a vehicle that is in good mechanical condition and equipped with backcountry necessities such as a sturdy jack, a spare tire in good condition, first aid kit, food, water, flashlights, a cell phone charger, the right maps and blankets.
Wear appropriate clothing for the anticipated conditions. Both Wormington and Spencer said rescues commonly involve people wearing inappropriate clothes such as sandals, sneakers and t-shirts when heavier clothing is needed. Also, rain or snow jackets, hats, mittens, boots and snow pants could come in handy in the event of being stuck outside for hours at a time.
Before leaving home tell someone trustworthy about your plans and an estimated time for your return. Then decide whether the person is expected to head out to help or call authorities in the event of a missed return deadline.
Start your trip early. Waiting until afternoon to head out can lead to trouble, especially in winter when night comes early.
Stick to terrain you know your vehicle can handle. If you’re determined to tackle more challenging terrain travel with a second vehicle and recovery gear you know how to use.
If you do get stuck, don’t panic.
If you’ve disclosed your plans to a trustworthy friend they should be able to point searchers in your direction. And if you travel with appropriate clothing and supplies the wait should be relatively comfortable.
Here’s what Carson City Search and Rescue members carry in vehicles used for missions. Source: Carson City SAR
• 5 Gallons water (non drinking - seasonal) (BLM/USFS required)
• Spare tire
• Bungee cords (assorted sizes)
• Fire extinguisher
• First aid kit (weatherproof)
• Hydraulic/Hi-lift jack/off-road base for jack
• Jumper cables
• Leather gloves
• Rope-tow/strap-tow chain
• Spotlight (mounted or handheld)
• T-style lug wrench
• Tarp (to keep yourself out of the mud and to catch small parts)
• Trash Bag
• Water (to drink, dean up, use for battery, radiator, washer fluid)
• Weatherproof matches
• Air pressure gauge
• Pocket utility knife
• Tire chains (seasonal)
• Wire (bailing, safety)
• GPS navigation unit
• Air pump/Compressor/Tire Inflator/Tire repair kit
• Bow saw
• Emergency food
• Emergency clothing
• Extra fuel and funnel
• Waterless hand cleaner
• Winch & accessory kit (straps, chains, snatch block, D-rings, shackle)
Recommended Tool Kit
• WD-40 lubricant
• Allen wrenches
• Crescent wrenches (small & medium)
• Electrical tape
• Grease or grease gun
• Needle-nose pliers
• Nuts & bolts (assorted sizes)
• Open end I box wrenches
• Socket set
• Screwdrivers (standard & Phillips)
• Wire-crimpers (assorted terminals)
• Super glue/epoxy
This is a vehicle usually in company with another of equal outfitting, with multiple forms of communication, good working GPS knowledge, and knowledge of the area.