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$2,500,000 to rescue hikers? I think we can do better.

WTF stampA recent post on highlights the issue that the park is having with unnecessary rescues.

Ill prepared and too confident for their own good, many day hikers are taking bold risks, betting against Mother Nature, and coming up short in the end only to call 911 to cash in their get-out-of-jail-free cards.  The problem is that the weather that crippled their adventure is still a real problem for the rescue team.  Many of the areas that hikers access are difficult for rescuers under the most perfect conditions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am glad that rescue is an option and there are countless scenarios where I think rescue is absolutely warranted.  But it seems like the stories of rescues that could have been avoided are hitting my Google Reader with increasing frequency.  Some border on the absurd, and others make me appreciate the near-miss, thankful that the hiker was able to get help.

From the post: “While others turned back, Castillo pushed on up the park’s iconic feature, making him one of Yosemite National Park’s worst nightmares— the increasing number of wilderness neophytes who mistakenly think the government is obligated to save them.”

Apparently Yosemite doesn’t charge for the rescues which means the resources, more than $2,500,000 in the last few years, could have gone to something far more pressing if hikers would learn how to hike more responsibly and show some restraint.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that there is a growing number of people willing to go a bit further, a little more out of their comfort zone, or roll the dice on weather knowing that they can always pull the trigger on a rescue.

Is it just me or does this rub you the wrong way too?  I want to hear it.

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I'm the founder of Vestor Logic, the digital strategy and web design firm that created Trail Sherpa, ParksFolio, and Modern Steader. I'm a day hiker, top chef in camp, doting husband, and father to two headlamp wearing boys. My work in digital media brings those experiences to life.

  • I’m on your side… I think hikers should take more precautions. It’s a tough one though. In the time I’ve run/hiked/backpacked, I’ve gotten in a few hairy situations despite being informed, knowledgeable, etc. That said, I had the gear to survive, too!

    Good post Tim!

    • Thanks for the comment Greg.  I agree.  I’ve been in some sketchy spots…like last weekend.  To be more specific, it’s the negligence for changes in weather that really get me.  I would assume that most rescues are warranted.  It’s the avoidable ones that I am taking issue with.  Feels like those are increasing.

  • The SAR commander should make the final decision based on accurate information obtained using standard criteria. Clear indicators pointing to stupidity, negligence, or equivalent, should be the reasons for fines and penalties. Clear evidence leading to unintentional error, poor judgement with admission, or unexpected setbacks, should be deliberated with the SAR team who answered the call, for the purpose of assisting the commander with the decision (democracy rules).

    • That’s a good concept too.  I could get on board with something like this.  That would also not punish those that are injured along the way.

      • Most SAR organizations are required to satisfy a minimum amount of time to maintain their “mission ready” level. One or more drills/exercises are conducted, along with one general membership assembly, each month for meeting their requirements (local/state jurisdictions). So long as the rescue call was not a blatant sign of contempt it can be recorded as a “live drill/exercise” (real life simulations are obviously the best type”). See:

  • NASAR SAR TECH III and II Criteria of Performance

  • Tourists pay a lot of money to travel to Yosemite for their family vacations – I think a lot of it might come down to how fast the weather can change in Yosemite at a given moment. The tourists don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted their money on a trip, so they’ll bet against mother nature. Then the weather turns and they’re screwed, looking for rescue.

    • I think you’re exactly right David.  I can’t say that I wouldn’t be just as tempted.

  • Shelli Johnson

    Have you heard of Travelguard? It’s awesome. I paid $37 for 4 days worth of insurance that would cover helicopter and other types of rescue- and health-related services in the event of an emergency, while I was on an epic adventure in Grand Canyon.

    • That’s actually a great option Shelli.  Not sure how that would be worked into a backcountry excursion from the Park’s side.  It would fall onto the individual to be responsible for getting the coverage.

    • Briburt

      Yeah but National parks doesn’t charge for rescues and if you have medical insurance the clinic there can see you and bill them!!

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  • Tim

    Don’t forget, it’s the “it won’t happen to me” invincibility syndrome that most of these people are afflicted with. They aren’t humble enough to realize that the elements can change at the drop of a hat and Mother Nature can whoop your you know what in the blink of an eye if so desired.