As people head outdoors, preparedness urged

Posted at: 04/05/2013 6:05 PM
Updated at: 04/05/2013 6:06 PM
By: Steve Handelsman, NBCNC

Warmer spring weather means more hikers taking to the popular trails of the Sandia Mountains next door to Albuquerque, and the city police search and rescue team wants them to take a page from the Boy Scout manual and “be prepared.”

Law enforcement authorities point to a mountain rescue they had to perform on the cold dark snowy night of March 1 as an example of hikers who were not prepared whatsoever to take on La Luz trail on the rugged western face of the Sandias.

They were three teenage tourists from Missouri – shorts and tee shirts, sneakers, no water, no food, no flashlight and cell phones that died as night shrouded the mountain range and the thermometer dropped like a bomb. And let’s not forget the snow falling on the upper reaches of the trail.

La Luz climbs a steep, winding eight miles from the foothills to Sandia Crest. The young hikers were freezing in the dark up there, until a search and rescue team from the police Open Space unit executed an astonishing and risky nighttime operation to get them down before hypothermia killed them all.

On Friday, Mayor Richard Berry honored the seven team members as Friday’s Heroes. The cops all said thanks very much, but the real thanks would be for hikers to be better prepared.

“Number one thing, especially with warmer weather coming, is plenty of water,” said Officer Chad Melvin. “We get a lot of incidents in the summer where they go up and maybe only have one or two water bottles for a family of four. Definitely bring a lot of water.”

“A lot of people start off in the daytime in shorts and a tee shirt,” said Sgt. Jeremy Bassett. “In the evening time it’s dropping 30 degrees. They’re getting hypothermic. They’re out of food. They’re out of water.”

Good news: On KOB Eyewitness NEws 4's visit to the La Luz trailhead Friday afternoon, hikers seemed to be well-prepared.

“It’s hard to say what the weather is going to be, but I have a pair of pants and a light jacket in  my pack,” said hiker Chelsea Whitney, who was wearing shorts and a light sweater over a tee shirt.  You’re going to be warm and sweaty for awhile, so anything you can shed off and put back on.”

“I always eat a good meal and drink lots of water before we hike,” said her companion Jim Cellini. “You’ve got to bring water with you. The biggest thing is hydration.”

Those police mountaineers say another key thing to remember is that darkness is not your friend. Even while the sun is still up the deep tall-timbered canyons can be as dark as night, and those mountain trails can be real ankle-busters – or worse.