Search and rescue teams in Washington had their busiest July ever.
King County Search and Rescue conducted 43 missions last month. That's more than double the 20-a-month average for July. Olympic National Park has had 39 search and rescue incidents in 2020, 22 in July. That's up from the 17 incidents in July of 2019.
Because rescue teams are stretched thin, crews say it's more important than ever that hikers and backpackers be prepared before heading into the wilderness.
Jennifer Brenes, president of King County Search and Rescue, attributes the increase in calls to the pandemic. She said, with other forms of recreation off limits, more people are heading to the mountains and a lot of them are new to hiking and often don't have proper footwear or water.
She said she doesn't want to discourage new enthusiasts, but wants them to know about bringing the "10 essentials," including extra water and a first aid kit. And, she said, you should do some research to make sure the trail matches your skill level.
"You should have an awareness of not going beyond your comfort level or your threshold for experience," Brenes said. She said too often people are drawn to a beautiful scenic spot they see on Instagram, but what they don’t see is the distance or level of skill it took to get there.
Brenes said missions range from a weeklong search for someone who is lost to help for a hiker with a twisted ankle.
The recent successful search for 18-year-old Gia Fuda is an example of the former. King County Search and Rescue found Fuda nine days after her car ran out of gas and she got lost in the mountains off Highway 2. Brenes said dehydration and knee and ankle injuries are the most common things rescuers see. She said they've had so many calls, it's been hard to keep up.
"So this is the time for hikers to be extra prepared because we're spread so thin it may take longer for us to get to somebody," she said. For example, Brenes said, with a good first aid kit someone may be able to wrap a sprained ankle well enough to make it back to the trailhead without waiting for a rescue team.
If you do get lost, Brenes said the best thing to do is "stop, slow down and think." She said your brain is the best tool you have in your tool kit. Continuing to forge ahead could result in taking you even futher afield. And she recommends calling for help "sooner rather than later." She said another thing you can do is make arrows out of sticks to mark where you've been.
People who are rescued are not charged a fee. Search and rescue teams in the state are all volunteer and rely on donations for support.