Wildnerness safety: 'You can never be too prepared'

EUGENE, Ore. - In the past five days, there have been two hikers rescued from the Pacific Crest Trail.

With the opening of the McKenzie Pass Highway and the official start to summer four days ago, Lane County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue teams are gearing up.

A late spring storm has brought heavy rainfall and snow in the upper elevations of the Cascades, surprising many adventurers. John Miller, head of LCSO's Search & Rescue team, says inclement weather is to blame for many rescues.

"Probably a little less snow than usual, but the McKenzie has just opened up and the people are anxious to get out and enjoy and recreate in the mountains," Miller said. "There's still a bunch of snow up there, and the trails are pretty obscured."

Miller continues saying, "Summertime is our real busy season, like many other counties, except we've got an enormous amount of water and mountains to recreate in. So, Lane County is the ideal place to go play."

With that in mind, many campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts will be heading out into the wilderness. Miller says many of the rescues can be prevented.

Researching the trails ahead of time, creating an itinerary, sharing your plans with a friend, making sure you are in good physical condition, bringing a navigation device and knowing how to use it, and bringing the correct gear will prepare you for the unexpected.

Miller says many of the adventurers are under-educated. "Underestimating their skill sets, underestimating what equipment they'll need and getting in over their heads a little bit."

"A lot of people underestimate what it's going to take to get through the mountains and how long it's going to take, so they either get stuck overnight or they get worn out."

Miller says that every person is responsible for themselves. LCSO has many programs and events for people to familiarize themselves with the wilderness and learn survival skills.

Bottom line, "You can never be too prepared," Miller says. "Education is an enormous part of hopefully putting us out of a job, as we'd like everybody to be safe out there."

LCSO's Search & Rescue team consists of volunteers and includes several different specialized response teams. Annually, Miller and his teams rescue over 100 people, most of them lost, injured or dehydrated.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or looking to see a list of events, you can go to Lane County's Web site.