How to Handle Emergencies on the Trail - AdventureTripr

How to Handle Emergencies on the Trail

Kavya Reddy · July 13, 2022
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All five US entrances to Yellowstone National Park were recently closed after record floods caused by heavy downpours and melting glaciers severely damaged roads and bridges and flooded nearby communities. The entire park, which spanned parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, was shut down to tourists, even those with accommodation and camping reservations, until at least June 15th. It is the first time since a series of devastating wildfires in 1988 that all five park entrances have been closed to visitors.

Visitors and tourists in the park's northern communities were evacuated. During this historic flooding in Yellowstone National Park, 60 people had to be rescued by helicopter. The sudden flood waters in Montana washed away hiking trails, leaving hikers stranded for two days before rescuers could reach them. Nobody wants to be in the wonderful outdoors - the "middle of nowhere" in this case - and have to call for help. However, regardless of the likelihood of such a scenario occurring, everyone must be prepared.

Prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially true when going on an outdoor adventure. Here's what you should do if you need emergency assistance while hiking.

Kinds of Emergencies and tips to handle these

Flash Floods

Flash Floods
Flash Floods

Strong thunderstorms that drop a substantial amount of rain in a short period of time are usually the cause of these rapid and powerful flooding events. In case rains are in the forecast in an area prone to flooding, be sure to take the following measures:

  1. Recognizing the altitude and topography of where you are going is an important aspect of flash flood safety for hikers. Knowing your topography allows you to identify the best routes and locations to avoid various types of danger like being stuck in a low lying area where flood water may collect. For instance, If you are on a dry riverbed that begins to fill with water, evacuate immediately. Use your knowledge of topography to escape danger by getting to higher ground. 

  2. Pay attention to your surroundings. This is significant for a variety of reasons. It can notify you of an injured hiker, wildlife threats, thunder, flash floods, and other hazards.

  3. Hike without earbuds or headphones because you may miss auditory cues of danger or need for assistance. 

  4. Make no camp near rivers, streams, or watersheds. These can be filled with water at night and catch you off-guard.

  5. Do away with excessive weight so an escape becomes easier, in case you end up getting caught in a flood. You also don’t want the weight to weigh you down in case you end up in deeper waters.

  6. Don’t walk or drive through the flood water as it’s hard to predict the flow and depth of the water and it might change rapidly and dangerously. 

  7. Wait for the waters to recede.



fire moves uphill, your best bet is to move downslope in the opposite way of the fire
fire moves uphill, your best bet is to move downslope in the opposite way of the fire

It is critical to know what to do in the event of a forest fire regardless of where you hike, but especially in the western United States, where these fires can quickly become out of control in dry, windy conditions. Here’s what you need to be prepared for in the wildfire season.

  1. A good map, whether paper, GPS, or other, can be extremely useful in determining which direction your trail is heading in regards to where the fire is heading from. 

  2. It's also critical to remember your origins. This is a situation where a satellite device can come in handy to notify local authorities of the fire and request assistance.

  3. You should avoid rough terrain, chutes, and saddles at any and all costs. Because fire moves uphill, your best bet is to move downslope in the opposite way of the fire. 

  4. If you can't get away from the fire and/or the smoke is thickening, get low to the ground, just like you would in a house fire, to avoid breathing in as much smoke as possible because it rises. 

  5. Get into a low spot, depression, ditch, or stream bed, and lie down with your feet facing the direction of the blaze.



When the clouds begin to gather and a storm threatens, it is best to seek lower ground
When the clouds begin to gather and a storm threatens, it is best to seek lower ground

Hiking through mountainous terrain increases your chances of encountering a storm. In the mountains, it is impossible to predict how the weather will turn and a storm can arrive quickly and disperse just as quickly. Here’s how to handle the situation if you end up being on the mountains during a thunderstorm.

  1. When the clouds begin to gather and a storm threatens, it is best to seek lower ground.

  2. If your hair stands on end, the temperature drops suddenly, or you feel electric zaps between your fingers and the rocks, a storm is approaching. 

  3. Keep a safe distance from any tall standing objects such as trees, power lines, cliffs, or large rocky outcrops. 

  4. Throw away any metal objects and refrain from using your cellphone.


Rock slides and landslides

If you are unable to outrun a land or rock slide, it is best to crouch and cover your head for protection
If you are unable to outrun a land or rock slide, it is best to crouch and cover your head for protection

Small rock slides occur frequently in mountainous areas where mountain remnants have accumulated. In areas prone to rock and landslides, particularly after heavy rains or snow melt, you want to consider taking the following measures: 

  1. You'll want to get as far away from the approaching onslaught as possible. The greater the distance, the better. 

  2. Even if you appear to be off the beaten path, rocks can bounce in unpredictable ways as they scurry down a mountain. 

  3. Never cross another hiker's "fall line." In other words, you don't want to be directly beneath them further down the trail. 

  4. If you are unable to outrun a land or rock slide, it is best to crouch and cover your head for protection. It is also advised to cover yourself with a blanket or tarp.



Sprains – Rugged, uneven, and slippery terrain is a recipe for spraining a knee, wrist, or ankle. For immediate self-care of a sprain, rest the sprain as much as possible. If you need to walk, rely on a companion or a stick for support, and use the afflicted limb as little as possible. Use a bandage or brace, but do not wrap it too tightly.
For immediate self-care of a sprain, rest the sprain as much as possible.

Whether you are hiking alone or with hiking partners, you may injure yourself, have an injured hiking partner, or come across another wounded hiker on the trek. This is why you should strongly contemplate investing in a rescue beacon or some sort of satellite device. This becomes even more critical if you plan to hike in remote regions, go on thru-hikes, and solo hike. If you are unable to reach anyone, you may be able to wait for another hiker to come along and assist you if the area is not overcrowded and the damage is not life-threatening. Even more basic and essential is carrying a first aid kit, as a part of your 10 essentials. For further guidance on how to handle emergencies resulting from injuries and what should be in a first-aid kit, refer to our blog on hikers’ first aid kit here.


How to be prepared for emergencies resulting from natural disasters

  • Investigate - know where you're going and what to expect.

  • Train - be fit and healthy for what your body is expected to do.

  • Carry a first-aid kit, which should include a snake bite kit, an emergency blanket, a whistle, and a light.

  • Learn basic first aid skills - there are numerous courses available to prepare.

  • Learn basic survival skills, such as how to find water and navigate with a map and compass.

  • Know the contact numbers for the state's emergency services

  • Carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) or a satellite device.

  • Have an abundance of supplies, such as water and food; a little extra could save your life.

  • Carry appropriate clothing and equipment, such as maps, a compass, thermals, and a compact water filter.

  • Tell people where you're going and when you expect to return.

  • Take charge of your own safety.

  • Keep up to date with weather forecasts for the area you intend to visit.


Immediate responses

You should dial 911 and explain your situation to the dispatcher. They can help you determine whether you require assistance and, if necessary, provide advice on how to self-evacuate. Depending on where you are and the current conditions, it may take up to 48 hours for Search and Rescue crews to reach you. Most people call for help using a cell phone or a satellite messenger; it is strongly advised that you bring one or both with you in the mountains. If you or a member of your group is injured, the dispatcher will most likely give you some medical advice to help treat and stabilise them while you wait for rescue.

How to make an emergency distress call

Always keep your local emergency phone numbers handy. Carry a torch and a whistle with you at all times; these simple tools can help you get out of a sticky situation. Six whistle blasts separated by a one-minute interval constitute the international distress signal. If your blasts are picked up, you should expect three whistles in response. If you don't have a whistle and instead have a torch, use the same rule of thumb: six torch flashes followed by a minute's break, and continuous torch flashes at one-minute intervals if there is no immediate response.

Where to wait for help

  • If it is safe to do so, ensure the immediate safety of anyone in the disaster's path. 

  • You will need to stay in your location after making contact with search and rescue, so make sure it is a safe place to wait. 

  • Climb up to a ridge line or point with no tree cover for the best chance of getting a signal. 

  • If you are near or below tree line, you can get out of the wind and find fuel to build a fire for warmth.

  • Avoid being too hidden so that search and rescue misses you.

When you're hyper-focused on reaching a goal, you're more likely to make poor decisions—ignore signs that your body needs a break, push a straggler to keep up, keep going even when a storm threatens. You'll find it easier to be flexible if you keep an objective in mind other than the summit, whether literal or metaphorical. Remember that you're out there to have fun, and the only way to do so is to take care of yourself.

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