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.