In the wild, stay safe by being prepared

There are those among us who live for adventure, always climbing higher, jumping farther, going faster. For those who are adventurists, life generally leads to the great outdoors, where there are no limits of adrenaline-producing activities. Hiking, biking, and kayaking opportunities continue to draw people to the beautiful Columbia River Gorge in droves.

The magical beauty of the forests and waterfalls that gives the illusion of being alone when surrounded by thousands of other people is an instinctual pull for many outdoor enthusiasts. However, many of these enthusiasts come unprepared to their adventure. Water, appropriate attire, fully charged phones, and some basic first aid supplies are absolutely necessary for even a day hike.

‘Have enough snacks or food to last you at least 24 hours. Accidents happen and rescues can take a long time to execute.’

Cascade Locks Fire and EMS has responded to 11 calls for help on the trails in their response area so far this year. Some of those trails include Eagle Creek, Oneonta Falls, Starvation Creek and Munra Point. Two of those calls concluded with someone losing their life and seven were serious injuries to the victim.

In 2015, Cascade Locks Fire responded to 34 trail rescues, with 28 of those requiring ambulance transport to the hospital, 20 with life-threatening injuries. In the last 10 years, there have been approximately 10 deaths in just this small area of the Gorge. These statistics do not include the injuries and deaths that Corbett, Skamania County, and other Hood River County agencies have responded to.

The most unfortunate part of most these injuries and deaths is that they could have been avoided. Jumping from Punchbowl Falls is illegal and has resulted in numerous injuries and at least two deaths. Going off trails and going beyond closed areas of trails has resulted in hundreds of lost hikers who are unprepared for even a night in the wilderness and more injuries than can even be counted. Keeping yourself and others with you safe can be a task sometimes, but imperative. Below are some tips to help you stay safe while still having fun in the beautiful outdoors.

First and foremost, always obey posted signs. The intention of those signs is safety for everyone, not just everyone but you. Before you leave home, you should check the conditions of the trail you plan to visit. Make sure you are dressed for the area you plan to hike in — flip flops or high heels are not appropriate hiking footwear. Ever. Take an appropriate amount of water for the day. Have enough snacks or food to last you at least 24 hours. Accidents happen and rescues can take a long time to execute. Having a jacket and a space blanket with you could be your saving grace in the event of an emergency. Not only will it help you stay warm, but a silver space blanket can reflect light if you are lost, making it easier to locate you. Stay on marked trails. Cutting switchbacks degrades trails and causes slides and washouts to occur, and causes many injuries to ankles and knees. Do not let small children walk near the edge of trails and always have a hold on them to keep them from falling.

Safety is the responsibility of everyone. Those who have been affected by tragedy on the trails know firsthand how devastating a death or injury can be. Help rescuers help you by being prepared and safety conscious while enjoying the outdoors.

As a side note, the local fire agencies in the Gorge want to remind everyone that fire season has arrived and everyone needs to be vigilant to prevent a large scale wildfire in our area. Tens of thousands of resources are working on numerous large fires in our surrounding states and it could get worse with sustained hot temperatures and no rain. Stay safe while enjoying the majestic wild of the Gorge.

Jessica Bennett is chief of the Cascade Locks Volunteer Fire Department.

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