Being prepared key to a safe trek

As I said out loud the other day, I will probably get lost between my back door and car sometime soon, after chuckling a bit about an article reporting a group of Kentucky hikers who had managed to get “stranded overnight” at Coopers Rock State Forest near Morgantown.

Many West Virginians are familiar with Coopers Rock. To my mind, it is not exactly the kind of place where one can get easily “stranded.” Experienced hikers would take one look at the terrain and know that if they continued downhill, they would hit a river, and if they headed uphill, they would hit the large outcropping of rock and developed area where they likely parked their car.

If the hikers ventured up or down the river a bit, all they needed to do was turn around and follow the river back the way they came. Sure, it’s a long, hard slog up hill, but the way is fairly clear. However, by the time rescuers found the bunch, one had an injured shoulder from a fall and the others were suffering from mild hypothermia. They were led to the bottom of the gorge, where a rescue boat took them to a marina for further treatment.

Officials discussing the rescue said the bottom line was these hikers got lost because they were not familiar with the area. Perhaps the river looked a lot closer to them than it was, when they began their adventure. Perhaps they had not checked a map of the area, or noticed how late in the day it was getting. I realize what seems obvious to me, someone who spent plenty of time at Coopers Rock during her four years as a West Virginia University student, might not have occurred to hikers from outside the area.

Reading this story turned out to be an important reminder for me, then. Later in the spring, I will be hiking with a group of friends in an area with which I am utterly unfamiliar – desert. While I might have been tempted to simply bounce off into the state park after a quick glance at a travel brochure, I’m going to have to do my best to become a little more familiar with the territory. I’ll need a map. I’ll need to make adjustments to my usual hiking pack filled with flashlight, emergency blanket, camera and pocket knife. Yes, I’ll need a heck of a lot more water. And we will need to make sure someone knows where we are and when we should be back.

Without preparation, I imagine it would not be terribly difficult for our little group to stray from the path and end up the subject of news stories that make the locals shake their heads and chuckle.

Hiking, whether in familiar mountain woods or brand new environments, is a great joy. And thanks to a group of Kentuckians, maybe I’m a little more likely to educate myself and properly prepare for my next trek. I hope their scare hasn’t frightened them out of the woods for good, and that they’ll be back in the Mountain State for another adventure soon.

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Speaking of great joys, not all my escapes involve hiking boots and backpacks. It has been quite nice, over the past couple of months, to be able to tell friends I’ve got plans to attend events such as “The Wicked Divas” by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra – Parkersburg this evening. “Oh, are you headed back up to (Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Morgantown)?” they’ll ask. Why no. Why would I do that? I can get all that good stuff and more, right here in Parkersburg.

Now if someone could just give me directions to the venue …

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com