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Hikers, bikers, snowmobilers urged to be prepared on backcountry trips

A snowmobiler crashes and injures himself.

Two hikers and their dog become disoriented and lost in a canyon.

A mountain biker gets separated from his group and goes missing.

A rock climber falls nine metres.

Some off-road exploring using ATVs and motorbikes goes bad.

A senior wanders seven kilometres from his care home.

And a private jet crashes, killing all four on board, including former Alberta premier Jim Prentice.

All of this, and more, happened over the past few months in the Kelowna area, mobilizing Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, police and fire departments.

While some of the circumstances were accidental and unavoidable, others were preventable if only the adventurers had been better prepared.

“Because the backcountry is so close in British Columbia, a lot of people have a false sense of security,” said Sandra Riches, the B.C. co-ordinator of AdventureSmart.

“Whether it’s an afternoon hike or a multi-day backcountry trip, we urge everyone to practise the three Ts — trip planning, training and taking essentials.”

AdventureSmart works in conjunction with the B.C. Search and Rescue Association and the provincial government’s emergency management agency to raise awareness of outdoor safety.

“People in B.C. are active and outdoorsy. We love that,” said Riches.

“But, we also want people to be prepared so we can reduce the number and severity of incidents.”

Every year, about 1,500 incidents require the 80 search and rescue groups and their 2,500 volunteers to spring into action in B.C.

Since 2004, AdventureSmart.ca has been distributing information and presenting workshops throughout the province to promote planning, preparedness and safety.

AdventureSmart suggests you fill out the trip plan form on the website before each foray into the wilderness.

The form asks for your name, where you’re going, when you expect to be back and an emergency contact.

If the expected return time comes and goes, the website generates an email to your emergency contact, who can call 911 to mobilize a search.

You should also let a friend, family member or neighbour know of your backcountry plans so they can alert police if you are overdue.

It’s the police who call in volunteer search and rescue crews to help find and assist lost and/or injured hikers, cyclists, motorbikers, ATVers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, skiers, rock climbers, boaters, paddlers and kayakers.

You should also be fit enough to tackle any activity you plan.

Riches said searches and rescues are launched every year for people who are basic hikers at best and who end up lost on a technically challenging, difficult trail.

What you carry on your adventures depends on where you’re going, how long you’ll be, the season, the sport and the difficulty.

Even a day of easy skiing at a resort should see you take a whistle so you can call for help if you fall or get off course.

You also should be able to call for help no matter where you are are and what you are doing.

Sometimes a smartphone will suffice, but make sure there’s cell coverage where you are going and your battery is charged.

Calls from cellphones helped locate those two lost hikers and their dog in a canyon at Mill Creek Park, and also helped a cyclist who broke her arm falling off her bike on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail in Myra Canyon.

Trips that are longer and farther afield will require a spot device (satellite personal tracker) that can be activated and alerts local police or search and rescue if you become lost or injured.

It was a spot device that saved a snowmobiler from potentially freezing to death overnight last month on Jubilee Mountain after he was thrown from his machine and injured.

A spot device also saved a motorcyclist back in July after his bike broke down in the hills above Lake Country.

A satellite phone, two-way radio and avalanche transceiver are also options.

Other essentials can include a first-aid kit; a fire-making kit; a repair kit for one’s bike, snowmobile or boat (know how to use it); the shovel, probe and transceiver of an avalanche kit; extra food, water and sun protection; additional clothing; a flashlight or headlamp; special silver blanket for warmth; and even an emergency shelter.

Good fitness and some extra food and water in his backpack allowed a lost mountain biker to make his way from Little White Mountain all the way to Penticton on forest service roads after becoming separated from his group.

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