Warmer weather is arriving just as the pandemic loosens its grasp on our daily lives. New Englanders are being vaccinated at a pace that outstrips their fellow Americans, and with a newfound sense of security comes a desire to leave the house and head for the woods.
Trail stewards from the South Shore of Massachusetts to the far reaches of the White Mountains in New Hampshire are already reporting an influx of hikers eager to breathe in some fresh air after a year trapped inside. And they're not picky about where they'll trod -- the toughest trails up Mount Washington seem to be as busy as the gentlest paths down to the water in Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Unfortunately, many hikers aren't prepared to re-enter the wilderness.
On Easter Sunday, a Massachusetts woman was rescued after falling off a rock ledge on Jaffrey's Mount Monadnock. The woman started her hike after six, wasn't carrying a flashlight or warm clothes, and panicked when her cellphone started to die a little after 8. The week before, a hiker from Connecticut got in trouble when his feet got wet while hiking in Franconia Notch and he became too tired to carry on about two miles from the trailhead.
It's not just the big, bad mountains that are proving tough to handle. Two hikers from Marblehead had to be rescued last month after getting lost in the Cathedral Pines swamp area of Essex. Casual walkers on Cape Ann routinely get hopelessly turned around in the woods of Dogtown.
There are a few through-lines in most of these episodes. The hikers are unprepared, finding themselves lost and carrying only their cellphone. Only then do they learn that GPS maps are notoriously inaccurate, and cellphone flashlights are great for reading a menu in a dimly lit restaurant but useless for finding a trail in the pitch-dark woods. They put a great strain on rescuers, who risk their own safety in dark, stormy conditions; it can take as many as eight people to carry out an injured hiker on a stretcher.
It's not complicated. If you're going somewhere unfamiliar, or the weather is iffy, or it's getting dark, let people know where you're going and take more than your phone -- a map, water, flashlight and warm clothes at the very least.
The N.H. Department of Fish and Game's website has an excellent list of necessities at www.hikesafe.com. As the department reminds us with each press release: "Never rely on a cellular phone for rescue."