Thursday, February 21, 2008

Outdoors Safety in the North GA Mountains (Feb 2008)

Outdoors Safety in the North Georgia Mountains

The January abduction and murder of 24 year old Meredith Emerson, who was kidnapped while hiking in the Blood Mountain area of north Georgia, is a tragic reminder that we cannot take our safety for granted while participating in outdoor activities. Violent crimes are rare in the public recreation areas in north Georgia-and hikers, campers and fishermen have no reason to shy away from enjoying themselves in our woods and on our trails and streams.
We have enlisted the help of some experts this month to advise us and remind us of some things we can practice to help insure a safe experience while taking part in our favorite outside adventures. Pete Sadel and Charles Dean of Atlanta Single Hikers were kind enough to offer their opinions and advice on hiking in north Georgia. Atlanta Single Hikers was founded in 1995, and they schedule regular hikes for their members all over north Georgia and elsewhere. These guys have logged quite a few miles on our local trails. I asked Pete and Charles to comment on the relative safety of hiking in the mountains and for any tips they would offer.

Pete: "I would say that hiking in north Georgia is fairly safe, IF you follow some basic safety rules. Things like not hiking alone or at the very least leaving specific details of your hike with a friend or relative. Carry a cell phone and some means of protection."
"Hiking alone is pretty risky for a male or female, you can twist an ankle or fall down a rocky trail pretty easily. I've heard more than one story of people being attacked on the trail....Personally I tend to hike at the back of the group (usually 5-25 hikers) to be sure no one is left alone. As an old Boy Scout I lean on some of the tried and true safety rules; Don't hike alone or if you must leave details with someone as I mentioned. If hiking with a group, stay together. Bring a mini-survival kit with you in case you wind up hurt or lost. Bring a really loud and obnoxious whistle. Don't forget a compass and maps are your friends. Pepper spray is a good idea-some of it is even made to work on bears. I occasionally feel that I'm being a bit paranoid, but unfortunately recent events have justified that-a little paranoia can go a long way."

Charles: "I agree with Pete on much of this, especially following the basic safety rules. I would add that I think hiking in north Georgia is pretty safe. If you look at the crime rates among people hiking, the rates are very low. A very public incident like the murder of Meredith Emerson can give people the impression that something is more dangerous than it is-like the way the movie "Jaws" affected beachgoers. Of course one can be attacked in the woods, just like anywhere else, but the actual number of incidents is low. Any incident like the recent one is terrible and very sad."
"I carry a knife and pepper spray on the trail. I haven't used either on human or animal. I'm an old Boy Scout, too, so I try and follow the rules Pete mentioned."

For another perspective I posed some of the same questions to Stuart Taylor, a friend who is an avid hunter and fisherman, and also works for a local law enforcement agency. I specifically asked Stuart about fishing and camping alone in the mountains...means of protection...and any other advice he might have to offer.

Stuart: "The main thing is (if you are alone or in a small group) always let someone know exactly where you plan to be and for how long you will be going. Make sure that person knows how to contact the Sheriff's office or local patrol post/ranger station in that area. Use common sense and don't put yourself in places you may not be able to handle. Be in shape for the terrain and carry a basic "Oh Crap" bag with some survival items in case you get lost or hurt. Carry a cell phone and a good map and compass you know how to use."
"Use caution when you are approached by another person in a remote area. Trust your gut instinct-if something doesn't seem right, it more than likely isn't. If confronted, the first rule is RUN!, disengagement is always your best option. Run with a purpose-to get to your vehicle or to create distance so that you can defend yourself, and if you have to fight use your pepper spray (with at least 10% OC Concentration, the higher the % the better). If there are or could be other people in the area, scream and make noise."
"As far as the safety of being alone while in the wilderness, I would not hesitate to fish, etc. alone in north Georgia...but I wouldn't take off to the middle of the Cohutta Wilderness by myself unless I knew that area very well. Some warning signs that an area might not be safe include groups of people who don't seem to fit the area..signs of marijuana cultivation or drug manufacture..if you know the area, you notice changes or something out of place. Trust your instincts."

I really appreciate Pete, Charles, and Stuart adding their insights and knowledge. We all need to beware of complacency concerning any activity that may involve risk..but risk, by definition, can be calculated. A careful assessment beforehand is advised for anyone heading out to the woods, no matter the level of experience. Being aware and prepared only adds to the comfort and enjoyment we can experience while taking part in the outside world.


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