Lt. Todd Bogardus, NHFG, (603) 271-3361
Rebecca Oreskes,WMNF, 603) 528-8721
February 14, 2008
Enjoy the Winter Outdoors, but "hikeSafe"
CONCORD, N.H. -- With school winter vacation weeks about to begin and New Hampshire's mountains enjoying a very snowy winter, outdoor authorities are advising the Granite State's backcountry visitors to "hikeSafe."
"New Hampshire's woods and mountains are a great place for winter recreation. Whether snowshoeing, backcountry skiing or ice-climbing, there are many fantastic opportunities here," says New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lieutenant Todd Bogardus. "But the nature of the winter environment is that it can be a dangerous place. Cold temperatures, deep snow cover and, especially above treeline, sometimes fierce winds, mean that hikers and others need to take special precautions to enjoy their adventures safely."
Recent tragic incidents in the White Mountains, including a hiker death by hypothermia and a climber's death in an avalanche, underscore the seriousness of Bogardus's message and highlight the principles of "hikeSafe," a joint initiative of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the White Mountain National Forest to promote safe and responsible hiking.
Rebecca Oreskes of the White Mountain National Forest says that the hikeSafe "Hiker Responsibility Code" sums up the basic tenets of backcountry safety. "Winter hiking has great rewards, but also comes with innate challenges and dangers. Being aware of and following the Hiker Responsibility Code are important first steps toward an enjoyable and safe journey."
There are six tenets of the code. You are responsible for yourself, so be prepared:
1) With the appropriate knowledge and gear;
2) Leave your plans with someone else;
3) Hiking groups should stick together, and not let themselves become separated;
4) Hikers should always be ready to turn back if circumstances, such as changing weather, dictate;
5) Hikers should be ready for emergencies, and, ideally, be set to effect "self rescue;" and
6) Those who know the code should share its lessons with others.
Bogardus notes that the Hiker Responsibility Code applies year-round, but there are special considerations for winter hiking. "Winter weather can be extreme, especially on the highest summits of the White Mountains, so anyone venturing to those areas absolutely must be prepared for bitter cold, strong winds and poor visibility - and must be ready to turn back if conditions become too difficult. Plus, the mix of weather we've received so far this season means that deep snows can be found in the forests, requiring snowshoes, yet in some places, icy slopes mean that special gear such as ice axes and crampons may be needed." According to Bogardus, it is often difficult to locate trails under deep snow cover, and "breaking trail" through that snow can require a great deal of extra effort.
Some locations have added hazards. "The Forest Service Snow Rangers on Mount Washington have noted a lot of avalanche activity this winter," adds Oreskes, "and similar hazards can be found in other areas, especially those with steep, open slopes. All backcountry visitors should be aware of avalanches and the special training and equipment needed for anyone who is traveling in potential avalanche terrain."
"In spite of the recent tragedies, most winter visitors to our state's forests and mountains have great experiences," says Bogardus, "and there's a better chance of having a happy ending if hikers follow the hikeSafe principles."
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department works in partnership with the public to conserve, manage and protect the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats; inform and educate the public about these resources; and provide the public with opportunities to use and appreciate them.
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