Sidetrail

Let someone know before you go

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Mountaineer Aron Ralston learned some rules of outdoor adventuring the hard way.

Ralston was exploring a remote Utah canyon when a boulder pinned his arm. No one knew where he was or when he expected to return. Trapped for five days, out of water and options, Ralston finally saws off part of his arm so he can escape. His misadventure was memorialized in a book and in the 2010 film "127 Hours," with Ralston played by James Franco.

Ralston's plight reminds all of us who love the outdoors to let someone know where we are going and when we expect to return.

That's a particularly tough problem for us independent types who pride ourselves on being able to take care of any situation that arises, but as Ralston learned, stuff happens that no amount of ingenuity can overcome.

Some situations arise suddenly. Northern New Mexico public lands managers are warning that as spring snow melts and runs off, water flow in creeks and rivers can rise suddenly, catching runners, hikers, horseback riders and other adventurers off guard. Springtime also brings out bears, snakes and other wildlife that can unintentionally bring our outdoor adventuring to a sudden halt. Last year, a marathoner in the Valles Caldera unwittingly got between a mother and two cubs. The mother bear attacked and swatted the marathoner around. The runner lived, thanks in part to the fact she was participating in a race and other runners came along to help her. The ending might have been different if she had been off alone and no one knew where she was.

Delinda VanneBrightyn, president of Taos Search and Rescue, said about a fourth of the times searchers go out a year looking for a lost person, they don't know where to look. The person hasn't told anyone where they are going. VanneBrightyn said the group is called out 18-25 times a year to look for someone who is missing.

Knowing where someone has gone exploring before they got lost "is important," said VanneBrightyn. "It helps us to hone in on an area a lot faster. It saves a lot of time."

VanneBrightyn said when someone calls to report a friend or family member missing, law enforcement officials first go looking for a vehicle. If they know where to look, it helps. But if they don't even know where to look for a vehicle, it's tough.

"It can delay by hours - or even days - the time to find someone if no one knows where they are," VanneBrightyn said. "You should never go out by yourself or even in a group without letting someone know where you will be. It can truly save your life from a time standpoint."

If you don't have a partner or family in town, text or call someone out of town. Give them the trailhead or road you'll be on and what time you expect to be back. Be sure to text or call the person when you return so they will know you made it back safely.

In addition to letting someone know where you've gone, here are some tips to stay safe in the backcountry:

• Go prepared for all kinds of weather.

• Take some emergency food in a pack and always carry water, even for short hikes.

• Be aware of weather forecasts before you go.

• Stay on the trail.

• Take a headlamp or flashlight with fresh batteries just in case you get caught out in the dark.

• Keep children within sight at all times.

• Carry Environmental Protection Agency-registered bear pepper spray when hiking in bear country.

Stay safe and have fun in the beautiful Taos backcountry.

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