Safety courses can give hikers a leg up on winter’s dangers

EVERETT — They start out starry-eyed in Southern California.

But after a few months, they’re in the north Cascade Range, and east Snohomish County is neither warm nor dry.

Local search-and-rescue crews and mountaineering advocates are holding two information sessions for people who plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from California through Washington.

About 300 people start the trail in California each spring, said Randy Fay, a county emergency-management employee and a sheriff’s helicopter rescue team volunteer. About 180 people complete the trail each year. They tend to arrive in the Snohomish County area between late spring and early fall, Fay said.

The Pacific Crest Trail also is the focus of “Wild,” a bestselling memoir that is being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

Every year, local rescuers are called to help people who are injured or killed in the backcountry, including Pacific Crest Trail hikers, Fay said.

Anyone going into the backcountry in the Pacific Northwest needs to understand the realities of winter conditions, and that the weather can change dramatically without much notice, he said.

“Whether it’s snow or just rain, you get stuck up in the Cascades without that proper gear, you have a real problem on your hands, and there’s very, very few escape routes (from the Pacific Crest Trail) when you get past Stevens Pass,” he said.

Backcountry injuries reported locally include broken ankles and legs, head wounds from falls, and hypothermia and exposure, Fay said. People also lose the trail in the snow and become lost.

The Pacific Coast Trail safety classes are planned for 6 p.m. March 6 and March 13 at Dinsmore’s Hiker Heaven, 63330 NE 197th Place, Baring. Each class will last an hour or two.

“If you’re hiking in the Northwest in the late fall or winter, you have absolutely got to be prepared to manage, both experience- and equipment-wise, the worst weather possible,” Fay said.

Others headed into the outdoors also should be aware that snow can be soft or icy, depending not only on the temperature, but also shadows, time of day and other factors, he said.

People headed into the backcountry also need to carry personal locator beacons. If something happens, the devices give rescuers exact locations, which can speed up the search, Fay said.

The usual advice also applies.

Before heading outdoors, people need to make a plan, follow hiking-safety essentials and let someone know where they’re going and when they’re due back, said Chris Moriarty, an Everett Mountain Rescue volunteer.

“Just thinking ahead, a head-lamp and some food will get you pretty far,” he said. “Some layers and planning ahead could make a huge difference.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Search and rescue fundraiser

A fundraiser is planned April 19 for search-and-rescue crews in Snohomish County, including the sheriff’s helicopter rescue team. The team previously was funded by a federal timber tax that is expiring.

The event is set for 6 p.m. at The Mountaineers Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle. Tickets are $100 in advance and $125 at the door. The event includes a dinner, a silent auction and a live auction.

More info: helicopterrescue.org/fundraiser/

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