Planning and preparation key to backcountry safety

Shames backcountry 4

As of January 8, 2021, police have required assistance from local search and rescue organizations in reaching lost or stranded people on four occasions.

On both January 2nd, 2021 and January 3rd, 2021, Vernon Search and Rescue was mobilized to assist stranded snowmobilers in Hunter’s Range east of Enderby. The callouts continued on January 5th, 2021 when Central Okanagan Search and Rescue assisted police in locating a person in medical distress in the Fintry area of Westside Road. At the same time, Vernon Search and Rescue, who normally would respond to the Fintry area, was engaged in a search for a snowmobiler who had become stranded in the Lumby area.

We are incredibly fortunate to have these professional, dedicated, highly skilled volunteers with the training and capabilities they do, in our communities. Stated Constable Chris Terleski, Media Relations Officer for the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP. If you need them, they will come, but those venturing into the backcountry are ultimately responsible for their own safety and by not taking any undue risks, and by being properly prepared, they can reduce the incidents of needing SAR.

Being properly prepared allows you to manage and reduce the risks of backcountry travel, and that means planning for what may happen, not simply what you think may happen. A sudden change in weather conditions or an unexpected event could turn a simple hike into a crisis, or cause you to become lost or injured and in need of rescue.

While this list is not exhaustive, here are some steps to take to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip into the wilderness.

Leave a plan with a family member or friend; even if you are going for a short time. This person can give accurate details to police if you do not return as planned.

Plan activities that are within your skills and abilities.  Seek education and training opportunities before you go.

Be well informed about the terrain when embarking on a backcountry trip.

Never go alone, stick together, and remember, those who go ahead or fall behind are more likely to get lost.

Take the essentials:
• Light
• Signalling device: whistle, flare, mirror
• Fire starter
• Warm clothes
• Pocket knife
• Shelter/emergency blanket
• Water and food
• First aid kit appropriate for the activity
• Compass/GPS for navigation
• Communications – Do not rely entirely on your cellphone, consider having a Garmin inReach, SPOT, or other satellite communication device
• If you are heading into avalanche terrain, plan ahead and check for current snow conditions.  Taking an avalanche awareness course or Avalanche Level 1 course is strongly recommended.
• Each member in a group should have a probe, shovel, and transceiver/beacon. Be proficient in their use prior to going out; a stressful or life threatening situation is not the time to figure it out.

"When you realize you are lost or in trouble, it is best to stay in place. We teach the children to Hug A Tree. The same goes for adults. It keeps everyone safe and reduces the search area.  Stated Coralie Nairn, spokesperson for Vernon Search and Rescue.  "A great free resource is the, they have a free Trip Plan App that aids policing and SAR units."

VSAR provides these essential, life saving services free of charge and should you become lost or in need of assistance, do not be afraid to call for help, and call early. The faster help can mobilize, the less time you are exposed to the elements.

Double check your gear, then check it again. Taking these steps can greatly reduce the amount of time it may take rescuers to locate you in an emergency, which could be significant in a life or death situation. Adds Terleski. Being aware of what could happen, and properly preparing for it in advance, will allow you to enjoy your adventure and allow you to manage unexpected situations should they arise