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1997 was a record year for the number of searches for lost hikers, campers and wilderness visitors! The summer of 1998 ended with the tragic death of an experienced hiker. Don't let it happen to you!

Update: Lost hiker's body found

Are you REALLY prepared for your visit to the Bridger Wilderness?

Has it occurred to you that the fun trip you have planned in the great Wyoming outdoors might end up with you becoming lost, injured, or perhaps never going back home? For a record number of visitors to the Bridger Wilderness this year, that is exactly what has happened.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the people of western Wyoming, want your trip to be fun and SAFE. Below are some tips to help you and your group plan your recreational outing.

1. Be prepared, and expect the unexpected
  • Call ahead just before your trip, or stop by the local Forest Service District Office, and find out about the current local conditions. Things can change in a hurry in the Rocky Mountains. The Forest Service can advise you of weather changes, snow conditions, water crossings, bear activity and other conditions that you should know about.Bring a compass, map, and water with you!
  • Bring a map of the area you will be visiting, and know how to use it.
  • Bring rain & cold weather gear. Even if you are just planning for a day hike.
  • Bring waterproof matches and a mirror.
  • Bring a compass, and know how to use it.
  • Bring a water bottle and use a water purification system.
  • Leave an itinerary of your trip with someone in your family. If you get lost or injured, they will have a better idea where to search for you.
  • Have a contingency plan and a 2nd meeting place in case someone gets separated from the group.
  • Bring warm clothing and a sleeping bag rated for at least 0 degrees, even for your summer camping trip.

2. Know the reality and costs if a search for you becomes necessary

If you do get lost, and a search is started, it will take at least a day to get help on the way to you. Expect that you might be spending a day and a night in the outdoors before help or medical attention can arrive. The average search lasts at least 2 days. Typically, a helicopter may be called in to help search the rough terrain. This year helicopters have been needed on 8 searches. Some search and rescue operations also involve calling in extra manpower and specially-trained search dogs.

In January, 1997, a new law became effective wherein hunters and fishermen can pay an extra dollar on their hunting and fishing licenses to go towards a search fund in Cheyenne. This money is used to reimburse local county search and rescue organizations for most of the costs of search efforts. You or your family may still be asked to help pay the cost of helicopter use on the search, since it is so expensive.

3. Avoid splitting up from your group

Many of the people who have become lost this year did so after splitting off from their group, planning on rejoining them in a short while. The Forest Service recommends that visitors stay with their group unless they know exactly where they are going and how to get back. It is very easy to become disoriented up in the wilderness.

4. If you do become lost...

If you do become lost, get out into a clearing and interrupt the terrain by placing clothing items in a string or forming a big X with branches and whatever else is available. Build a fire in a clearing. Green branches thrown on it will make a visible smoke. Carry a mirror in your pocket in case you have to signal a search plane or searchers a distance away. If a search plane spots you, stay put and let the ground searchers come to you rather than trying to find them.

5. Know what should be in your Day Pack

Even though you may just be planning for a day hike, your pack should contain these items:

  • Map of the area
  • Rain gear
  • Cold weather clothing (warm hat, sweater, "space blanket", )
  • Water bottle with purification treatment system
  • Compass
  • High energy snack food
  • Waterproof matches and a candle
  • Whistle
  • "Swiss-army"-type knife
  • Small safety mirror
  • Flashlight
  • Strike-type flare
  • Fire starter (available at hardware or sporting good stores)
  • While some people debate whether a cell phone belongs on a wilderness experience, having one might be a life-saver. Be aware, though, that there are many areas in the Wilderness where a cell phone cannot transmit or receive.
6. Some safety tips . . .
  • Keep your survival gear with you at all times, even if you are just planning a short day hike away from your camp.
  • If you do get lost of separated from your group, don't wander around or leave the marked trail. Find a spot on the trail and stay there. Preferably find a place in the open to stay so that you can be more easily spotted by a search plane.
  • Conserve your energy and make plans for how to spend the night so you can stay warm and out of the elements.
  • If weather conditions turn ugly (ie. approach of a lightening storm or cold, snowy weather), think twice before continuing on your trip. It may be wiser and safer to return to your camp and try again the next day when the weather improves.
  • Don't attempt crossing mountain passes during hail and lightening storms.
  • Tell family members your plans, where you are going, and where you are going to park your vehicle.

7. Respect the power of the elements.Be alert for changing weather conditions!

Many of the outdoor activities in western Wyoming take place in remote areas far from other people, and help, if you need it. Be aware of the following possible conditions:

  • Sudden snow storms (possible any day of the year!)
  • Hail, heavy rain downpours, thunder and lightening storms
  • Strong winds
  • Sudden extreme cold temperatures
  • High elevation impacts on your physical condition.


8. Know your limitations and when to quit.

If you don't have knowledge of the area you are planning to visit, or the technical expertise to do the activity you have planned, either don't attempt it or hire someone who has the expertise to help you on your trip. Many qualified local outfitters & guides know this area well and offer their services for hire.

9. Don't necessarily believe the Guide Books.

There are many books offering proposed hiking trip route information and rock climbing route suggestions for the Wind River Mountains and Bridger Wilderness area. Some of these books rate certain routes as "easy", "not difficult", "expert", etc. Keep in mind, however, that these books contain varying degrees in the idea of what is "simple". Recently, several visitors have become lost, and deaths have occurred, because they based their trip planning around information obtained from "guide books" that described conditions to be easier than they really were.

If you are new to the area, be sure to check with the local Forest Service District Office before your trip. Ask about your proposed route to find out about any conditions of which you may not be aware.

10. Attention Rock Climbers . . .

Have fun, but be safe.Although this area has some great places to practice your rock climbing skills, please be aware that the conditions can also be extremely dangerous. Recently rock climbers have been lost, injured and killed after attempting climbs in very difficult conditions.

If you don't have the technical expertise to complete a specific climb, please hire an expert to help you with it, or don't attempt it. Snow and ice climbs require considerable technical expertise and can be very dangerous. Be sure to check with the local Forest Service District Office on your proposed rock climbing route to find out about the current local conditions, even if you have read in a "Guide Book" that the route is described as "simple".

11. If you call in a search request...

The Sublette County Sheriff's Department and Search and Rescue will need to interview you and find out the exact last spot where the lost person was seen. You'll be asked what the person was wearing, what type of shoe soles he/she was wearing, and what kind of equipment the lost person has with him. You will also be asked about the lost person's personal habits, medications, general health and any illnesses. For these reasons, it is very important that you stay where search officials can find you and interview you. The worst thing you can do for a lost friend is call him in missing and then take off where you can't be interviewed.

For more information, please contact one of the following organizations:

Pinedale Ranger District, Bridger-Teton National Forest, 307-367-4326
Big Piney Ranger District, Bridger-Teton National Forest, 307-376-3375
Sublette County Sheriff's Office, 307-367-4378

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