Even for the most experienced, the outdoors can prove to be an unpredictable place, where one wrong step can turn a day of recreation into an emergency.
A woman in her 60s who was rescued by Taos County first responders on Monday (July 5) after she lost her footing and injured her ribs on the Divisadero Loop Trail provides one recent example of this risk.
It was around noon on Monday when an unidentified caller reported the woman had fallen about a mile-and-a-half up the trail, injuring her abdomen and rendering her unable to walk.
First responders, including the Rio Fernando Fire Department, Taos County Emergency Services and Taos County Sheriff’s Office, headed to the trail head with a litter to carry the woman down, but struggled to find her.
Over the course of roughly three hours, first responders stayed in touch with dispatchers on the phone with the caller, who had a limited supply of water and was helping to provide directions to find the woman.
When the team couldn’t hear the caller or the woman shouting to indicate where they were stranded, one rescuer asked dispatchers to use Google Maps to drop a location pin at the woman’s approximate coordinates on the trail, which climbs several-hundred feet from the narrow canyon to overlook the Taos Valley to the west.
After several more minutes waiting, the caller said they were running out of water, and suggested they climb further down the trail to resupply.
“Let’s have everyone stay put for now – now that we’ve got coordinates,” one first responder told a dispatcher. “That way we can get to them.”
Following that advice, rescuers were able to eventually locate the woman, load her onto a litter and return to the trail head just as an afternoon thunderstorm was rolling in. The woman was then transported to Holy Cross Medical Center, where she received treatment for her injuries.
Wilderness survival experts for many years have urged people who get lost – or, in this case, become integral to a rescue attempt – to stay in one place, as moving can both complicate rescue efforts and lead to injuries.
According to a study conducted by the New York Times in November 2020, hiking has surged in popularity during the pandemic, as have hiking-related injuries. The study found that in national parks, for example, tourism has increased by as much as 90 percent compared to averages in previous years.
Aside from injuries, around 2,000 people get lost in the wilderness each year, according to a March study published on outdoor safety website myopencountry.com.
In order to stay safe, experts recommend always notifying someone of where you plan to hike before you head out. It’s also wise to carry plenty of extra food, water, a fire starter, emergency shelter, extra insulation, sun protection, a multi-tool, a GPS device and a first aid kit when venturing into the outdoors.