Outdoor activities have become a popular pastime during the coronavirus pandemic as adventure seekers and couch surfers alike take short breaks on hiking trails.
While hiking may be a safe, socially distant activity, the challenges of weather, nature, and exercise have resulted in a number of injuries and some deaths on the trails.
In September, three hikers died in six days in the White mountains in New Hampshire. ONE Hikers in Mount Rainier National Park In Washington, a whiteout was resuscitated after its heart stopped for 45 minutes. And a woman who was missing for two days on Mount Whitney, California died of her injuries after the rescue in November.
“Every year at least one local dies in the mountains,” said Megan Jennings of Jackson, Wyo., Who lost a friend in an avalanche in nearby Grand Tetons this spring. “Death is something that happens a lot.”
People who hike often are aware of the risks involved. Jennings, 24, grew up in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, where attendance increased 88 percent in October compared to last October, the highest level for the month the park had. That summer, Jennings and Julia Olson, 23, set off on a clear Tuesday morning before dawn to hike the Teton Crest Trail, the first time they’d hiked the trails.
Within the first few miles they encountered a bear and a mountain lion who got away unharmed without calling for search and rescue. Jennings, who works in conservation, knew they were as prepared as they could. And luck.
The increase in park visitors – in some parks by 90 percent compared to the previous year – has increased the pressure on employees and authorities, who are already under financial and personnel constraints due to the pandemic.
“People need to be especially careful now that search and rescue resources can be scarce,” said Lisa Herron, a spokeswoman for the United States Forest Service in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California.
The agency hasn’t yet compiled data on injuries and fatalities for the year, but several park rangers and rescue agency representatives say the incidents anecdotally increased as visitor numbers rose.
The trails, backcountry, and campsites around Lake Tahoe experience varying weather conditions, including avalanches, blizzards, and smoke and poor air quality during the forest fire season.
Despite forest fires on most of the west coast that made the Tahoe Rim Trail inaccessible at the end of summer, there were more campers, hikers, and cyclists and riders on the trail than in previous years. Morgan Steel, the executive director of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, said the visit was not slowing down as quickly as usual.
“We usually see a significant change here from fall to winter. With more feet of snow, you have more experienced people out there on the trails, ”she said. “Although we’ve had a pretty significant drop in usage, there has been a big upward trend in usage overall.”
El Dorado County, one of the five counties around Lake Tahoe, has backcountry and wilderness – inclusive Desolate wildernesswhich can only be reached on foot or on horseback – and which, according to the sheriff’s office, has been sought more help with illness, injury and loss this year.
Sgt. Eric Palmberg, of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, said many of the calls were about people who “are coming out of their experience and may be taking more risks and being cooped up at home because of the pandemic.”
Since it reopened in May, the number of visitors to Zion National Park has increased by 5 percent year-on-year and in October by 30 percent compared to October 2019. Extreme heat has made climbing difficult, but bike rentals have been booming. More bikers and hikers have asked for help with minor injuries and complaints – ankle sprains, heat exhaustion, and cuts and scratches in accidents – than in previous years.
As it’s getting colder and the number of coronavirus cases has risen Record highs Across the country, many states have put in place curfews, mask mandates, and stricter social distancing protocols.
Although it is necessary, rescuers wearing masks move more slowly, said David Walsh, assistant chief of law for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. It was difficult for the emergency services to carry injured hikers in a mask down steep slopes, sometimes over eight miles.
“The increased exposure can sometimes delay a six-hour rescue mission. Sometimes it’s eight hours, ”he said.
In mountain parks, changes in temperature and conditions based on altitude – in some cases a 60-degree swing – will often surprise new visitors.
Jonathan Milne, a former ranger who works in conservation in New Hampshire and Maine, said, “When you get high, it creates a cascade of problems.”
But nature lovers will get further despite the cold.
“Winter still attracts people to hike and take photos, and avid hikers looking for a challenge,” said Susan McPartland, who oversaw the visit to Zion National Park. “It’s really hard to say if we’ll see more visitors this winter, but we’re still a bit busier than usual this November.” Somebody has to find the crystal ball. “