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A Reminder to Hikers

This winter’s snow has long melted away, and outdoors enthusiasts across Taos all have their boots out of their closets. But the summer isn’t only a busy time for outdoor recreation, it’s also a busy time for Taos Search & Rescue (TSAR). An all-volunteer organization, TSAR responds to dozens of stranded, missing, injured and lost persons calls each year across Taos county and the entire state of New Mexico. We’ve already responded to several search-and-rescue calls this year.

The majority of our calls are for lost persons who were just out for a day hike or another short jaunt into the wild. There is no hike that is “so short” that you don’t need to be prepared for the worst. Take 30 minutes this outdoor season to prepare yourself with some tips from Taos Search and Rescue.

First comes navigation. The only navigational tool that will always work anywhere is a map and compass. However, we realize that most people don’t know how to use these tools in this day and age. Carrying a map and compass will do you no good if you don’t know how to use it. Thankfully, navigation apps for cell phones have come a very long way in the last few years. TSAR uses and recommends Gaia GPS (for both iOS and Android) for backcountry navigation, though any app which allows you to download maps for offline use will do the job. Before you leave your house, you can download USGS and US Forest Service maps to your device using Gaia and have a valuable navigational tool that works outside of cell coverage. Most navigation apps also allow you to record a GPS “track”, which records your position over time. You can use this track to turn around and go back the way you came, should you become disoriented. Using a cellphone for navigation means that eventually your battery will run out. Carry a backup external battery. They are inexpensive, costing $20-30.

Tell someone where you are going. Post a “trailhead selfie” on social media with your point of departure, where you plan on going, and when you plan to be back. If you do become lost, the earlier someone realizes you are missing and calls 911, the better. If you believe someone is missing in the wilderness, you do not need to wait. There is no “48 hours” or “24 hours” minimum. Call 911 as soon as you realize someone may be lost.

If you do realize you are lost in the wilderness, there is one thing you can do that will immediately increase your chance of survival: stop moving. Time and time again, TSAR has seen persons who have realized they were lost and then tried to “walk out”. This dramatically decreases your chances of rescue and survival and makes it much harder for search and rescue teams to find you. You may wander away from search and rescue teams and travel outside the search area. Even without shelter, food or water, most persons can survive in the wilderness in fair weather for several days – stay put, and search and rescue will find you.

Put together a small “survival kit”, throw it in your pack, and forget about it. A survival kit which contains the classic “ten essentials” takes up a space the size of an Altoids tin, weighs less than a pound, and costs as little as $20 to put together. It could save your life. The “ten essentials” are: navigation (map and compass, GPS), sunscreen, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, a multi-tool, food, water, and emergency shelter (such as a space blanket).

Finally, if you or someone you know becomes lost in the woods, call 911 immediately. Taos Search and Rescue does not respond directly to SAR situations but is activated by the New Mexico State Police. Don’t hesitate. Rescue is free in the state of New Mexico and you will never be charged a fee. Taos Search & Rescue is composed of unpaid volunteers, receives no government funding and is completely supported by the financial goodwill of the Taos community. You can support us by visiting www.sar-taos.org/support.

If you are interested in joining Taos Search and Rescue, we meet once per month. Details are available in the “Ongoing” section of Taos News’ Tempo. TSAR trains and operates many sub-units, including ground, base, K9, high angle rescue, medical, drone/UAV, swiftwater, bicycle and off-highway vehicle units.

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How To Use CalTopo to Plan Your Next Hike or Outdoor Adventure

At Taos Search and Rescue, we know that a good map can be the difference between a fun day out and a night spent shivering in the woods, waiting for rescue. One of the best ways you can prevent needing a rescue in the wild is to know where you’re going, and to have a good map.

Taos Search and Rescue uses a mapping tool called SARTopo. SARTopo has a “civilian” version called CalTopo. Caltopo allows you to create, share and print topographic maps of anywhere in the United States. CalTopo has map data from the US Forest Service, the US Geological Survey, OpenStreetMap, and many more places. It even has some advanced analytical features, such as slope angle shading, weather history and forecasting, viewshed and sunlight analysis, and more.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to use CalTopo to print custom topographical maps of your next hike or outdoor activity. You’ll be using the same technology that Taos Search and Rescue uses to locate lost, injured and missing persons in the outdoors of northern New Mexico. Let’s get started.

CalTopo is a web application, so you can use it by just navigating to caltopo.com in your web browser. First, you’ll want to move the map to a place near where you’ll start your hike. As an example, we’ll make a map of a popular hike to Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. We can type “Wheeler Peak, New Mexico” in the search bar at the top of the screen and press “GO”.

Great! Now our map is centered in the general area where our hike will be.

Our next step is to decide which map layers we want on our map. Map layers are accessed at the top right corner of the screen. By default, you are using the “MapBuilder Topo” layer. Click that button.

Now, under “Base Layer”, we can change the base layer we want to use for our map. There are a lot of options here:

  • MapBuilder Topo – is based on OpenStreetMap, which is a freely-available geographic dataset. This is your basic topographic map.
  • MapBuilder Hybrid – is like MapBuilderTopo, but instead of using just a few colors to denote foliage (green for trees and grass, white for barren), it actually uses aerial photography underneath the topo lines. This can provide a little more information about forest clearings and other low-foliage areas.
  • USGS 7.5 – This is the USGS map you’ve probably seen before. Unlike the paper maps, however, CalTopo’s USGS maps have no borders, and you never have to go searching for a particular quadrant, or get annoyed when you’re hiking around the boundary of two quadrants.
  • FSTopo 2013 and 2016 – These are the official Forest Service maps. They only cover Forest Service land, of course, but if you are headed to a National Forest, these maps are the most up-to-date and contain the most information about trails in the area. Other than up-to-date information, the only difference between the 2013 and 2016 edition is that the 2016 edition shows vegetation and foliage in green.
  • Google Layers – All of the Google Maps layers you’re used to are available. Unfortunately, none of these layers can be printed for copyright reasons (they simply won’t show up). You also can’t use them as an additional layer on top – they must be the base layer.
  • Terrain Shading – You can optionally add some terrain shading as an additional layer to make the topographic lines more intuitive.
  • NAIP – If you want satellite imagery on a printed map, you must use the National Agricultural Imagery Program data, which covers the entire United States.

At Taos Search and Rescue, we will frequently use the USFS maps as our base layer where available, or USGS maps. We find these maps to be the most accurate and up-to-date for our area. In our example, however, we’ll select MapBuilder Hybrid as our base layer, because the OpenStreetMap data that it’s based on shows the trail which we want to hike.

We now want to draw our planned route on the map. We can do this by clicking “Add” in the upper left hand corner and clicking “Add Line”:

We can now draw a line over our planned route. You’ll see some trails and roads turn yellow. This means that CalTopo can “snap” your line to these trails. If a trail on your map hasn’t turned yellow, try changing the “Snap To” setting:

Click once to add a route section. Press Escape to remove one. Double-click to finish.

Now that we’ve drawn our the route, we can print our map. Click “Print” in the top menu bar, then “Print to PDF or JPG”. This will open a new window.

The area inside the red rectangle is the area your printed map will cover. On the left-hand side, you can choose a scale for the map if you wish to have a precisely scaled map. Otherwise, you can click and drag the red dot in the center of the red rectangle to move your map area. Clicking and dragging the corners will make the map larger and smaller. You can change the orientation of the map on the left hand side of the screen (portrait or landscape).

Once you’ve got everything perfected, you can click “Generate PDF”. This will open a new window. From here, you can print this map by pressing “CTRL-P” or “Command-P”, just like any other document.

Note that the URL in your address bar has changed. You may share this URL with anyone for 7 days after you generated this map, and they’ll see the same PDF. Here’s our example map that we created.

That’s how to create and print a map for a hike or other outdoor activity on CalTopo. Taos Search and Rescue wishes you safe travels in the outdoors!

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Search for missing male at Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

TSAR Training Officer Chris Kodey searches the Gorge.

On May 18th and May 19th, 2018, Taos Search and Rescue participated in a search for a male subject near the Gorge Bridge. State police had located his car in the parking lot of the Gorge rest area on Friday, May 18th. SAR was tasked with searching the area for any sign of the subject.

12 TSAR members responded to the incident over two operational periods. On Friday evening, teams from TSAR searched both sides of the gorge. The drone team was not deployed due to high winds.

TSAR members Kenton Pass, Drone Unit leader Karlis Viceps and FAA certified Drone Pilot Richard McCracken check wind conditions on the Gorge Bridge. The drone team cannot fly when gusts are above 25 MPH.

On Saturday, many more teams arrived and an extensive search of the area was carried out. TSAR deployed its drone and off-highway vehicle units for the first time. After no sign of the subject was found, the search was suspended.

Teams responding to the incident included TSAR, Santa Fe SAR, Atalaya SAR, Philmont Scout Ranch, and more. Richard Goldstein was Incident Commander for the first operational period, and Al Webster for the second operational period.

TSAR would like to thank our external partners for their swift and capable response to this mission: Justin Dean at the Bureau of Land Management, and the Warchief’s Office at Taos Pueblo. Both sent resources to the mission area and assisted swiftly in giving searchers the necessary land access permissions.

Map data for Taos Search and Rescue members is available here.

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Lost hikers at Middle Casa Falls

TSAR Medical Unit leader Roy Dunlap and Philmont SAR member Carl consult with Incident Base after crossing a FS gate during the search.

A pair of approximately 60-year-old hikers called 911 on the evening of May 9, 2018. They had become lost after attempting to find a waterfall near the Middle Fork of the Rio De La Casa near Mora, New Mexico. They stated they could not find the waterfall and did not know where they were, and they had a small amount of food and water, and a whistle. A location could not be obtained from their call.

Team 1 (including 2 TSAR members, Roy Dunlap and Nate Berkopec) departed from Incident Base at around 4:00 AM. Team 1’s first task was to clear the North Fork of the Rio de la Casa, as it had a waterfall close by which was close to the subject’s vehicle. A search of the area revealed no signs of the subject and no responses to auditory attraction methods (whistles, foghorns, yells, etc).

After returning to the subject’s vehicle, Team 1 headed south towards the Middle Fork. Within 1/4 mile, a possible footprint track was located. Shortly afterward, a second, distinct set of tracks was found. Both tracks headed south, further down the trail. The tracks often intersected and appeared at times to walk in single file. There was no return track.

About 1.5 miles uptrail, the track became confused as the footprints stopped abruptly and doubled back. Team 1 was able to pick up the footprints again on a small side trail leading west.

After crossing through a Forest Service gate, the footprint trail became harder to follow as the ground became thick with pine needles and moss. Throughout this time, Team 1 continued attempts to contact the subjects with whistles and yells.

Incident base radioed Team 1 to report that the subjects had again called 911, and said that they could hear the search team. 15 minutes later, Incident Base was able to obtain an exact coordinate via handset-based Enhanced 911. Team 1 proceeded to the coordinates, where they found the subjects.

The subjects were alive and well but exhausted after having spent a night in the open. They were unusually well-prepared for their emergency: they carried emergency food and water, mylar “space” blankets, whistles, and compasses. They had become lost after deciding to turn back and then losing the trail. They were carrying one GPS device, a Garmin eTrex, which the subject said was not working correctly. Subjects were checked for any medical difficulty and walked back to their vehicle.

This search showed the value of being prepared and thinking smart in the wilderness. The subjects, though only going out on a day hike, were prepared to hunker down for the night with shelter, food, water and even signaling devices. Second, they followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and did not move from their location. This makes it much easier for search and rescue teams to locate a lost person. A moving target is much harder to find than a stationary one, and lost persons may move away from search teams trying to find them. Finally, this mission showed that your navigational tools are only as good as your skills in using them. Though the subjects had several compasses, they did not have an adequate map and may have been able to find their way home with more knowledge of how to troubleshoot their GPS unit. Know and understand your navigational tools.

Incident base was the Walker Flats trailhead. TSAR and Philmont SAR were the teams that responded, though Santa Fe SAR and many more members of TSAR were en route when the subjects were found. Nathan Lay was Incident Commander. Nate Berkopec wrote this report.

Map data including TSAR member activity is available here.

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Lost hiker at Wheeler Peak


A 32 year old woman called 911 on February 4th, 2018 saying she had climbed Wheeler Peak and had become lost on the way down. At one point, she thought she could see lights of the Bavarian and at another could hear running water.

Team 1 (including 2 TSAR members, LJ Knowles & Karlis Viceps) left base at 2:30AM, and hiked in 30+ mile per hour sustained winds to Bull-of-the-Woods then south over Frazer Mountain. Team 2 (comprised of members of TSV Search and Rescue) hiked to Williams Lake then climbed up towards Wheeler Peak. Terrain was bare in some areas and moderately deep snow in others. Team 1 reported seeing foot prints likely to be subject’s, indicating travel northwest into the La Cal Basin. Inspection of the point given by the hiker’s GPS gave no clues or footprints.

A team from Red River began hiking up the South Fork of the Red River towards Middle Fork Lake around sun up. At 10AM more teams arrived at base. TSAR members were Roy Dunlap, Angelica Voekel, and Allie Heller. They were joined with several other SAR personnel from Santa Fe and assigned to go to Bull-of-the-Woods then over Frazer Mtn. At some point that large team would be split into to smaller teams, one of which would go down the Red River Middle Fork the other would continue south through La Cal Basin. A horse team was assigned a search from Bull-of-the-Woods to points north.

Around 12:15PM, the Red River team found the subject just downstream from Middle Fork Lake. The large combined team and the horse team (both of which had not gotten very far into their assignment), and teams 1 & 2 were called back to base.

The subject was on her feet and still moving. The Red River team did not report anything about her condition and said she would be taken to a waiting ambulance for a check up. All on the TSV side of the ridge returned safely to base.

The behavior of the subject is typical. More than one person in the past has gotten lost coming down from Wheeler Peak and into La Cal Basin and then gone east down the middle fork of the Red River. In the wilderness, as soon as you are lost: stay where you are and do not move except to avoid immediate danger. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, and carry always carry essential survival gear.

Incident base was the Taos Ski Valley Fire Station. TSAR, Santa Fe SAR and Taos Ski Valley Search and Rescue responded. Al Webster was Incident Commander for the first operational period, Spencer Moreland was Incident Commander for the second operational period. Richard McCracken wrote this report and worked at incident base.

Map data including TSAR member activity is available here.

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Lost hiker in Santa Fe National Forest

Taos Search and Rescue members Roy Dunlap and David Barger were involved in a successful search for a missing hiker in the Santa Fe National Forest.

From the New Mexican:

A team found Goldsbury near Lake Katherine, Search and Rescue Resource Officer Bob Rodgers said shortly before 8 p.m. No injuries were reported, and a crew planned to camp with Goldsbury in the area overnight before escorting him out of the forest Thursday, Rodgers said.

More at the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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