We hear about it often enough that it should not surprise us. Some person or group goes out on a hike and something happens and they get lost. Usually a large search is called for and they are found sometimes alive, sometimes dead. It happens on a regular basis, especially in the mountains of Washington State where weather changes rapidly. That is why the story that broke on Sunday of a father and his two sons dying after getting lost on a hike should not surprise us. The surprising thing was that it happened in Missouri.
According to reports, David Decareaux, 36, and sons Dominic, 10, and Grant, 8, set out for a hike on Saturday along the Ozark Trail in Missouri with temperatures near sixty degrees. Temperatures began to fall and it began to rain. The group had been dressed for the warmer temperatures and was not able to return before the weather worsened. It was reported that they had missed a turn to return to the lodge. The search began about 7:00 p.m. and continued until about midnight when flooding from rain made the trail impassable. Shortly after the search resumed on Sunday morning, the group was found. The father was pronounced dead at the scene and the boys died later. According to a coroner, the cause of death was hypothermia.
According to information about the father, he was considered an experienced hiker with scouting and military experience. So how could this happen? They hit the trail prepared for the current conditions and not for the forecast conditions. It is something that we all do when we become familiar with an activity. We become complacent and fail to follow all the guidelines that we should. Many times, we may only be inconvenienced, but as this incident shows, sometimes it can be deadly.
And this does happen in the Johnstown area also. There are trails in the Johnstown area that do get reports of lost hikers on a regular basis. One trail is the Lost Turkey Trail that runs between Blue Knob State Park and Gallitzin State Forest. Many times hikers will leave the campground at Blue Knob to hike the 26-mile trail without realizing that the trail is not a loop trail sometimes in sandals and without water. So here are some things to keep in mind to stay safe.
One incident occurred just last October at Laurel Ridge State Park. 73 year old Jane Connelly became separated from her hiking companion and became lost in the section of the park in nearby Fayette County. She was able to use her dog for warmth overnight and survived. She was found at 8:30 the next morning by park officials. In relating to this incident, Park Manager Mike Mumau said, “The best thing you can do is stay put.” She did that and she stayed near the trail and it had a happy ending. Other recent local incidents of lost hikers include a group of 8 teens and young adults lost overnight at McConnells Mill State Park and Debra Meyers of Morgantown, WV who found dead just off of the trail at Bear Run Nature Reserve near Ohiopyle, both which occurred in August of 2011.
Every year state parks need to send out search teams for lost hikers. Usually these searches end only last an hour or two, but occasionally they do last overnight. Some of these searches are because hikers get lost while some are because a hiker has had a medical emergency. So be careful and be prepared for hiking, especially in winter. Let someone know your plans and when you expect to return. And always hike with a buddy.