I am sure that the wilderness rescue volunteers and professionals in Ontario are the nicest people you could ever meet, but I’d like to avoid them. Well, at least in their capacity as SAR (search and rescue) folks.
Here’s a recent article from Ontario Parks that shares eight tip[s to avoiding wilderness rescue taht should apply to any backcountry adventure.
Ontario Parks staff are well prepared to help when someone is in need of assistance in the backcountry. However, we would much rather avoid having to rescue you in the first place. An unnecessary, or preventable, rescue has the potential to divert staff and resources away from people who might truly need our help. So to help you prevent an avoidable rescue, here are eight important tips.
1. Say map
Carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Seems simple, but do you? Is it a real topographic map or is it a guide book? If your GPS was to get lost on the trail and then you were to get lost trying to find it, would you know how to triangulate your location on a map?
2. Read the manual
Satellite messengers (i.e. SPOT or InReach) are a great way to let friends and family know you are okay while in the backcountry. They’re also a great way to get unexpected visitors. Each year interior park rangers go out to “rescue” surprised canoeing parties who weren’t aware that they had sent an SOS message when they checked-in. Make sure you know how to use your device. Read the manual.
3. Don’t wonder
We live in a connected world. Your friends and family expect to be able to reach you. It’s important not to change your plans if you have told friends and family that you will be finished your trip on a certain date, unless you have a way to update them. We don’t want your love-ones calling us to rescue you when you’ve decided to stay an extra couple of days because the weather was nice.
4. Stock up on your meds
Plan for the unexpected. You should always pack extra medications, just in case. It is especially important if you have a severe allergy to bring multiple epi-pens. You need to factor in the amount of time it may take for help to reach you and get you out.
5. Check the ego at the trailhead
Mistakes happen. But when they happen in the backcountry the can go from an oops to an emergency call quickly. It is important to know your own limits and plan accordingly. Don’t try to shoot a set rapids that are above your skill level. Save that for a day trip where if something does go wrong you are only a short walk to the car. Always err on the side of caution.
6. Fuel up
Bring enough food. This will probably be the most exercise you’ve had in awhile, which means you will be burning a lot more fuel than on a typical day. You don’t want your engine to run out of gas. Also be prepared with an extra meal or two in case you get wind-bound or storm-stayed.
7. Pay attention
Keep an eye on your paddling buddies. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Remember that you can still get hypothermia during the summer so you need to know how to treat it. Hypothermia can go from bad to worse very quickly if it goes unchecked.
8. You’ll get used to it
Wear your PFD (lifejacket) all the time when you’re on the water. Always, every time.
And one final tip if you are experiencing an emergency… Communicate, communicate, communicate
If you contact 911, the park, or any other emergency service, they are coming to get you. Communicating often with the agency responsible for your rescue can help relay valuable information as a situation evolves and allow your rescuers to adapt. If your emergency is downgraded, contact someone and let them know immediately so valuable search and rescue resources can be available for other emergencies.
Have a wonderful time exploring the backcountry of Ontario Parks and stay safe.