The following is a guest blog by Night Gear:
Doing Your Part to make their Job Easier
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the country. As many as 10 million people visit the park every year to enjoy the scenic beauty and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. The sheer number of visitors combined with the sometimes rugged terrain and inherently risky nature of some activities keep the emergency response services that service the park busy year round. Their skill and professionalism saves countless lives every year and prevents accidents from becoming tragedies. Despite the level of skill they possess, fatalities still occur every year, along with needless accidents that could be avoided with simple preparation. If you plan on visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, then doing your part will make needing their services far less likely and ensure beautiful memories that last a lifetime.
The Smoky Mountains cover all variety of terrain. Lack of being prepared for the area you are visiting is the most common cause of mishaps. Overconfidence in physical ability and underestimating the risks of particular areas are things that can be avoided. If you do not participate in hiking and physical activities on a regular basis, presuming you are in physical condition to hike a 7 mile inclined trail is just not wise. People that will wait 10 minutes for an elevator rather than take 3 flights of stairs should seriously consider if 5 hours of walking uphill, over rough terrain, is something they are prepared for, regardless of the reported view at the top.
Aside from the all too common sprains and twisted ankles, heart attacks are possible when suddenly exerting yourself beyond your physical ability. Rapidly changing weather conditions and lack of communication ability can make rescue a tricky process. In addition to the actual physical injuries associated with over doing it and taking on too much is mental fatigue. When you become physically over tired you begin to make poor decisions. A stream crossing you would not consider when fresh as too dangerous or risky, suddenly seems more appealing than walking another ½ mile to a bridge or marked crossing point. This lack of judgment when tired leads to risk taking that is not worth it. Do not put yourself in a position to make poor decisions because of exhaustion.
Knowledge and Skill Level
Be honest with yourself about your outdoor abilities. If you are not very competent with a map and compass, stick to marked trails. One of the greatest obstacles to getting timely help if an emergency occurs is in Emergency Services being able to find you. If you do not have a topographical map of the area you are going to be in, or if you do not know how to read it and get grid coordinates from it, then you really should never venture from marked trails. You may be able to see the destination at what appears a short distance away across a valley from a ridge trail, but once you step into the forest you will no longer be able to see it. Distances are very deceiving in huge expanses like the Smoky Mountains. The trail probably goes the way it does for a very good reason.
If you cannot tell rescue services where you are, or if a member of your party needs to leave to get help with an ankle, and then must try to return without a specific location and not on a trail, rescue will take some time in arriving. Be prepared with signal devices, water, basic first aid kit, and clothing for the elements and conditions. Night Gear outdoor equipment has examples to consider. Planning to avoid dangerous situations, as well as preparing for an emergency, should it occur, will make your trip less stressful and prevent the Rescue Units from proving themselves needlessly.
Hiking in the Smokies