Hiking, and just generally spending time out in the wilderness, is dangerous. There are always risks of injury, and when you’re away from civilization, those risks get significantly higher. A broken leg on a ski resort generally means calling ski patrol, maybe waiting a little bit, and a trip to the hospital. A broken leg several miles into a hiking trail can possibly struggling to call for help, a much longer wait for rescue, and savior generally from volunteer search and rescue teams.
To be clear, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD about volunteer search and rescue teams. These are people putting their own money (in Colorado, an average volunteer spends more than $1,500 a year on gear, training, gas, etc.) and their own time into saving the lives of other people. The issue with the volunteer search and rescue programs comes not from the programs or the people involved, but from the support given to these groups. On top of a lack of funding, search and rescue groups are getting more and more calls as spending time in the wilderness becomes more and more popular across the country. PBS NewsHour took a look at those issues, bringing us this very important look into the state of search and rescue in the United States.
The biggest issue with volunteer search and rescue groups in the United States is, of course, money. I definitely don’t know the answer to that problem, but it seems like there should, at least, a good bit more funding coming from states. As for New Hampshire’s technique of billing rescued individuals when negligence was involved, well, I think it’s interesting.
In 2019, 80-year-old James Clark was charged nearly $2,500 by New Hampshire Fish & Game after being rescued on Mount Washington. Clark told his two teenage grandsons to leave him behind on Lion Head Trail as he was struggling to keep up, making a plan to reunite after the hike. Unfortunately, the man was unable to complete the ascent and, around 7:45 p.m., the two teenagers called for help. Clark was severely unprepared for the cold temperatures and, when found, he was clearly suffering from hypothermia.
In this case, New Hampshire Fish & Game determined that Clark’s need for rescue was the result of negligence. This, most certainly, seems a bit harsh, but they aren’t entirely wrong. If the men had done more research, properly understood the length and difficulty of the hike, and had packed the proper gear for such an excursion, there’s a good chance Clark would have either been able to finish the hike or not done it at all, meaning search and rescue would have never been needed.
In cases where true negligence is involved (say, for example, the person had been drinking heavily or someone was just genuinely stupid) I think charging for rescue makes sense. I do, however, think that actually FUNDING and SUPPORTING search and rescue groups makes a lot more sense. It’s pretty easy to donate to search and rescue in your state, and I highly recommend you do so, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in the wilderness where those groups are necessary. For Colorado, you can donate here.
Image credit: PBS NewsHour via YouTube