Modern technology and innovations in travel, communications and gear have made adventuring in the outdoors accessible to just about anybody with the cash and time to get there, but it's a double-edged sword. Just walk through a sporting goods superstore like REI or Dick's and listen in on some of the conversations between sales people and customers and you'll get a feel for what I'm talking about. The fact that people are interested in getting off the couch, away from the flat screen and into the wild is a positive trend with big money industries like Eco-Tourism and Adventure Travel experiencing explosive growth in response to the growing demand.
More and more, though, we're seeing some people get in over their heads, biting off more than they can chew, and basically feeling they can simply jump to the top of the mountain. When this happens, search and rescue personnel are called upon as the professionals they are to do what they do best, and they're doing it all day, every day.
From an LA Times Article: According to the Wilderness Medical Society, from 1992 to 2007 in the US National Parks System, there were 78,488 people involved in 65,439 Search and Rescue (SAR) incidents. These included 2,659 fatalities, 24,288 injured or sick people, and 13,212 "saves," or saved lives. On average there were 11.2 SAR incidents per day at an average cost of $895 per operation. Total cost from 1992 to 2007: $58,572,164.
Anyone that spends a lot of time in the outdoors, ends up pushing the limits because that's what limits are for, and it's why you're out there in the first place. But putting the time in -- out there also adds up to valuable experience. I'm not saying there will never come a time when I get myself into a situation where the assistance of highly trained personnel skilled in the finer points of saving other people's asses won't become necessary. If it does, I hope there's a way to contact them and that they can make it to me in time. One thing's for sure, if I'm hitting the panic button, it won't be for anything short of a last resort.
As an advocate for getting as many people as possible interested in and caring about adventure and wildlife, I also urge an investment of time and effort to 'know before you go' and to also 'learn to return'. The latest in hi-tech equipment and battery operated satellite communications don't mean much of anything without knowledge, experience, preparation and common sense. Even with all that, things still go wrong and even the most experienced can go down, but if your idea of roughing it is sleeping at a Motel 6, then think it through. Get some training, maybe even hire a guide for your first time out and learn from a pro.
Search and Rescue Operations in National Parks Costly, but Effective
Photo Courtesies: Courtesy DND/MCpl Rebecca Bell, Jimsphotos | Agency: Dreamstime