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If there’s one thing the Los Alamos teen that went missing Sunday had going for her it was that she did many things right before she left for her hike down Red Dot Trail.
The most important thing, apparently, was that she let her parents know where she was, and she brought a cell phone with her. According to officials at the Los Alamos Fire Department, it was enough.
Deputy Chief Justin Grider said the rescue call came in around 2 p.m. Sunday. She called her parents and told them where she was. Though the battery in her phone died soon after, a rescue patrol on foot was able to pinpoint her location and bring her out before Sunday’s cold weather set in. Even though she had an unspecified foot injury, she was also able to walk out on her own.
“Crews were able to locate her after a few hours of searching, and when they found her, they were able to escort her up the side of the mountain,” Grider said.
Red Dot trail is considered one of the more difficult trails in the county’s trail system. It starts from a trailhead at Piedra Loop in White Rock. It’s rocky in places, especially in the beginning at the 1,000-foot descent into White Rock Canyon. From the basalt cliffs at the trail’s beginning, you can see the trail leading to the Rio Grande below. Because of the basalt outcroppings, it can be rocky in some places.
Vivian Hairston was out with her two teenaged children, Vanessa and Joshua, for an afternoon walk near the rim of the trail Monday. Though she is visiting from Albuquerque and did not hear about the story, she could sympathize with the rescued hiker’s plight.
“It’s easy going down, but the climb back out is very difficult. I was 18 at the time and it nearly killed me,” she joked. “That mainly had to do with the altitude; I was living in Socorro at the time. I would say it’s definitely a challenge for somebody who is not used to hiking.”
Though it’s not known what the lost hiker’s level of experience was, Hairston and her teenaged son and daughter highly recommended gradually working up to the more trails, gaining the needed knowledge to tackle them as you get more experienced.
As avid hikers themselves, the Hairstons also recommended taking some courses in outdoor safety and survival at “Cottonwood Gulch.” Both Vanessa and Joshua recently completed a program at the expedition camp and school, which is based in Thoreau with offices in Albuquerque. According to the school’s website, the organization teaches wilderness survival skills and outdoor safety. It also organizes expeditions into the wilderness of the Southwest.
Cottonwood Gulch’s executive director, Kris Salisbury, recommended that if hikers do go out into the wilderness, they practice preparedness and the concept of “self rescue.”
In other words, just like that lost hiker, have some type of a backup plan in case something goes wrong.
“Never anticipate you can get help. Always be prepared to self-rescue,” she said.
If you’re going to make hiking a big part of your routine, she also recommended taking a wilderness first aid class or first responders class so you can help yourself survive until outside help arrives.
“This way, if you’re going to be a backcountry for an hour, or for a month, you have some self rescue principles in place to help you take care of yourself,” Salisbury said.
Here is a partial list of her recommendations:
1. Have a plan of what you’re going to do in case of an emergency until help arrives. Also, tell your itinerary to someone. “Make sure you indicate to someone where you’re going,” she said.
“Tell someone where you’re going, how long you’re going to be gone and when to expect you back.” She also recommended leaving a clear, easily understood note about your whereabouts and plans on the dash of your car so passersby can read it. That way, if the date has expired, even a stranger can know enough to get you help when all else fails.
2. Have more water than what you have just for your hike, think about the level of physical activity, and what would happen if you had to stay overnight. She also recommended a water purification device and/or tablets. The same goes for food. Have more than enough.
3. Dress in layers, since the weather in New Mexico can change very quickly.
4. Have sun protection. Lotion, long sleeve, light colored shirts and hats are ideal.
5. Have a map of the area, a compass and know how to read them. She also recommends as backup and backup only a GPS unit, and/or a cellphone. But always have a map and compass, since batteries die and your electronic gear may end up useless because of failing batteries, or water or impact damage.
6. Pack a small, “emergency blanket” as well as small bivy sack to keep you out of the elements if it comes to that.
7. Have a first aid kit, make sure it contains items that are specific to your pre-existing medical needs as well as the group you’re hiking with. That could be meds for anything such as allergies or heart conditions.
8. Enjoy yourself. Sure, hiking is a challenge and you may find yourself in unfamiliar terrain, but a lot of the worry can be taken out beforehand with a little thought and preparedness.
“The backcountry is not a scary place to be. It’s a wonderful place to be if you’re prepared,” Salisbury said.
For more information about Cottonwood Gulch and what they do, go to cottonwoodgulch.org.