Hiking through forested paths, jumping over streams, scrambling up hills and discovering mysterious lakes that pop out of nowhere. These are just a few of the reasons so many of us live in Alaska. There are hundreds of miles of trails to explore and enjoy throughout this state, from close-in short hikes to far-out multiday treks. But be aware: What can be an easy hike suitable for the entire family can also become a pathway to peril.
There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your summer hiking adventures are filled with fond memories and not ones that involve becoming the subject of a search-and-rescue mission.
Every year the Alaska State Troopers respond to dozens of search-and-rescue calls and rack up millions of dollars in expenses responding. Some of these missions end with just a close call, good scare and a valuable lesson. Others end with a lifetime of heartache and loss for those left behind.
In an effort to raise awareness and share important tips for avoiding tragedy, the Alaska Department of Public Safety, Division of Alaska State Troopers, supports opportunities for residents and visitors to receive free training through the Backcountry Safety program.
The Alaska Avalanche Information Center has provided more than 100 all-season courses across the state with more being scheduled all the time. You can find their schedule at www.alaskasnow.org.
Anything can happen while you’re out enjoying Alaska; a fish hook in the ear, an uninvited dinner guest dropping by your campsite, a slip on loose rocks. Being prepared can help keep the unexpected from turning your adventure to tragedy.
Plus, keep in mind, if we want our children’s children’s children to also enjoy the spectacular vistas that stretch for miles, pristine mountain streams babbling over rocks and meadows, sparkling glaciers that echo through the ages, we must take care of the trails. We must treat the environment with respect.
I remember hiking the Resurrection Trail from Hope to Cooper Landing through meadows and forests and blueberry patches. For the first two days, we savored the quiet and beauty. But then, on the third day, we reached a junction shared by hunters.
This portion of the trail was rutted and muddy, but worst of all, littered with cigarette butts. It was as if a group of chain smokers on motorized vehicles had come charging through tossing out their butts every few hundred feet. The sight was depressing at best and made me wonder how someone could not be aware of the consequences of their actions. At worst, had it been dry and conditions right, this could have resulted in a massive wildfire.
Etiquette on the trails can make the experience of meeting others during your adventure a thing of delight and not regret. That means greeting your fellow trail mates with respect, obeying the signs that stay “keep on the trail” or “no motorized vehicles,” and all of us doing our part to keep the trails clean and ready for the next guest who has the honor of experiencing this amazing “pathtime.”
Here are a few of my favorite safety tips the Alaska State Troopers and others have shared with me during my more than 60 years hiking in Alaska:
- Make a trip plan. Tell someone you trust where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Check the weather forecast and be prepared with emergency supplies.
- Carry water and a way to safely replenish your supply (filter or tablets.)
- Bring bug repellant. Some swear by Deet, but there are lots of natural alternatives that are effective as well.
- Go with a friend whenever possible. And make noise, especially when you are traveling through thick woods and brush. If you encounter a wild animal, don’t run. Slowly back away and get behind a tree or rock.
- Carry a first aid kit and know at least basic first aid skills.
- Have nutritious snacks, dry socks and extra clothes in your supplies.
- Take communication with you. Cell phones don’t work everywhere but have also saved lives. Even better options include In-Reach, SPOT, and satellite phones.
- Be considerate and protective of the environment and others you meet in the amazing wilderness of Alaska.
- Be prepared to be your own rescue team. You seldom have the ability or time to go for help.
You can find lots more resources online, and even ways to get involved and help protect our trails at /www.alaska-trails.org/ or through the state and federal parks.