First on the Scene: A Young Hiker's Death, How to Help in Trail Emergencies
A tragic death at Lake 22 has prompted a conversation about how hikers can help when they encounter an emergency in the backcountry.
A teenager's tragic fall Saturday while scrambling around Lake 22 is a sobering reminder to exercise caution when exploring our backcountry, and to be prepared for helping out in an emergency. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said the 15-year old boy, who was hiking with his brother and friends, fell approximately 30 feet from a rock face down to a snowfield. Our hearts go out to the boy's family and friends.
"You never know what situation you will run into..."
Trip Reporter Herzog was hiking the Lake 22 trail on Saturday when he encountered the boy's devastated friends, and was one of many hikers to play a role in the response operation.
"It's an important lesson for those of us that hike these common trails," he wrote in his report. "You never know what situation you will run into, even on an easy day hike such as Lake 22."
First on the scene: perspectives on providing aid in emergencies
Herzog's report raises a question that commonly comes up in conversations about the role that regular hikers play when they're unexpectedly faced with medical emergencies. It's a question with no clear or easy answers, but still a conversation worth having.
Below are a few perspectives from Washington Trails Association staff and board who who've been there.
"My first thought was, don't make the situation worse."
Three years ago, a woman fell through the snow and died while descending Asgaard Pass in the Enchantments. WTA board member, Rob Shurtleff, and his friend were among the first people to the scene of the accident. Looking back, he recalled having to make a quick decision.
"My first thought was, don't make the situation worse. How can I contribute in a way that helps the situation? It may mean providing comfort to those at the scene, running for help or better cell coverage or giving first aid."
It's human nature to want to help in an emergency situation, but there are also times when everything is being handled and the best course of action is to get out of the way.
WTA's Kindra Ramos was assisting an injured hiker last summer on the Annette Lake trail and noticed that the best thing other hikers could do was to give them space.
"Once we had enough people assisting, I really appreciated when hikers kept moving instead of stopping and asking a lot of questions."
Finding your role
So what is a hiker to do? We recommend assessing the situation before acting. Ask yourself:
- Is the injured person in immediate danger?
- Would assisting them put you in immediate danger?
- Are there others already assisting?
- Is there a role that you are comfortable and qualified taking on and where you are value-added? If the answer is no, you may find your best role is to either find someone else who is in a better position to help, or to trust that others have it handled.
What else can you do?
Other simple ways to help keep you and others safe on the trail:
- Be prepared for conditions and situations. Carry a well-stocked First-Aid kit, layered clothing, food and water on every hike.
- Assess your risk when making decisions. Especially in June and July, hikers may encounter snow and dicey stream crossings. Know your limits and be willing to turn around short of your goal.
- Brush up on your safety knowledge. Take the time to review our Early Summer Hiking Safety Tips for some important reminders. If you're inspired to do more, consider some additional training, like a Wilderness First Responder course.