It’s that time of year when the body count rises with ambient temperatures. Summer hasn’t yet started but the deaths in Death Valley National Park are already accumulating. And in a post-Covid 2022 world, the proliferation of untrained users of public lands has resulted in unfortunate deaths on public lands.
To begin, let’s be perfectly clear: land and weather by themselves kill no one. But actions taken and decisions poorly made lead often to horrible conclusions. Say no to stupid decisions and do not place yourself on a statistics list. The following may seem obvious, but these are factors that cost numerous lives each summer. These are just a few important life-saving decisions you can make before vehicle touring any remote off-pavement areas:
- Assume that rescue is unavailable. Your cell phone, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), or satellite phone may fail to communicate from wild places. Assume and prepare for the possibility that your life is in your own hands. Carry paper maps and compass and know how to use them before venturing out. Never rely solely upon technology.
- Don’t venture into any remote areas without an appropriate vehicle and appropriate tires. AWD is not 4WD and factory-equipped and street tires are never adequate for rugged desert travel. You must travel with a FULL SIZE SPARE TIRE and all the tools and skills required to change it. An emergency donut is completely useless off pavement. Check your tool kit before departing home.
- Don’t venture into any remote areas without first checking for basic information such as road closures or known travel difficulties (snow/ice, washouts, etc.). Always carry paper maps for the region and an analog compass (including USGS topographical quadrants).
- Paper maps (preferably USGS topographic quads) and an analog compass are always 100% active and accurate - no batteries or WiFi is required. But they require a trained user. Conduct your training now.
- Be mindful of your driving route and its key landmarks (forward and backward views). It is dangerous for the observationally oblivious and navigationally challenged to wander onto backcountry routes. Know your limitations. Take a friend and/or notify loved ones.
- Losing auto battery power in the back country could be a serious concern. I urge you to carry a full-size portable jump starter and power pack (like those used by AAA and similar), not one of the small USB units (of which I have experienced DOA's and failures). The Cen-Tech 630 peak amp unit (or something similar) is a good one to consider. They can also charge your iPad/iPhone and other USB devices.
- If your vehicle becomes disabled, no matter the conditions, STAY WITH IT. The vehicle is usually what is found first by air and foot rescue teams. You decrease your chances of survival by failing to stay with it. Open the hood and doors of the vehicle (signals) and stay in its shade.
- If you feel you must absolutely leave your disabled vehicle, do not venture further into the remote: reverse-walk the route which you drove.
- Carry minimally one week’s worth of extra food, water, and a sleeping bag/blankets and other provisions even if you plan only to be out for the day. This sounds like a lot until you end up stranded.
- Always file your flight plan with a friend or loved ones. For spontaneous soloists, this is the most difficult point to abide. I personally don’t stick to hard plans and often have no means of communication. If you travel solo, a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or satellite phone are reasonable pieces of insurance to carry.
It doesn't take long to die in desert heat. Don't gamble. Don’t become a statistic. Stay smart, stay alive.