There are plenty of outdoor adventures available in our area, including hiking on scenic trails and enjoying water activities on our rivers. These activities can be lots of fun, but they can also present the potential for serious injuries and even death. Most important when heading out is being aware of where you are going and what risks and hazards may present themselves, and what precautions and safety equipment are necessary. Mainly stating; do not get in over your head!
Two weeks ago, a 31-year-old from New York City fell 40 feet to her death at Glen Onoko Falls in Carbon County. Yesterday, a 71-year-old male hiker from Harleysville had to be rescued there after slipping and being injured. And now earlier today, a woman was rescued after falling and breaking her leg.
Glen Onoko Falls is located in the Lehigh Gorge just north of Jim Thorpe. It is a set of three large waterfalls with the highest being near 75 feet. The falls are tucked beneath a canopy of trees in a deep chasm carved by the Glen Onoko Creek as it tumbles 900 feet to the Lehigh River. The site draws thousands of tourists each year.
No official record is kept, but accounts by authorities and newspapers indicate there have been at least 11 hiker deaths and dozens of serious injuries in the Lehigh Gorge since the late 1970’s. Most of those have occurred at Glen Onoko Falls.
Glen Onoko's rough, boulder-and-gravel strewn trails are not maintained and hiking is at your own risk. Sections of the trail are steep and treacherous. Hikers have been seriously injured and killed as a result of accidental falls from the trail and gorge overlooks. Everyone who hikes there should wear proper hiking shoes; not sneakers, sandals or flip-flops as some do and it also not advisable to take small children there.
Officials say common threads in the deaths over the years are inexperience, lack of preparation and carelessness.
Paddling and tubing opportunities abound in the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. With heavy and frequent rains occurring during June and July the rivers had become more treacherous than normal for recreational boaters and anglers.
Since Memorial Day five people have drowned in the Delaware River and one in the Lehigh River. Many more have been rescued from fast and muddy water. They were all involved in tubing, paddling, swimming or fishing activities and none were wearing a PFD.
People should understand their surroundings. If the rivers are cloudy and muddy, the current may be stronger. Plus, river visitors must always be aware of the weather.
Anytime there’s news about flooding or heavy rain, it’s just a bad time to go into any river. There’s a lot more current, and rocks that are often visible won’t be even if the river rises only a foot. It’s particularly not a good idea to go for a swim.
It’s never acceptable to leave children unsupervised. Children should wear U.S Coast Guard-approved life vests. Only approved vests can stabilize a child’s body position in a current. Other types of flotation devices only “give children a false sense of confidence of swimming.
Some outfitters along the Delaware require their tubing customers to wear approved life vests, others don’t. Water levels also may affect an outfitters decision as to even allow patrons on the river.
Anyone caught in a current should stay calm, do not swim against the current and do not stand up in the current. Individuals should float on their backs with their feet facing downstream, so they can guide past rocks with their feet and avoid getting their lower body trapped in submerged rocks.
If someone falls into the water, others in a boat or raft or tubes should check for the missing person. People on shore should contact the nearest lifeguard or authority and call 9-1-1.
If the person is spotted, throw or reach towards the person in danger with an object, even if it’s just a floating cooler, for them to hold onto.
Only attempt a personal rescue when there is no authoritative or professionally-trained individual on hand. Only then should a person assess the river’s current. If it is calm, put on a life vest and wade towards the victim with a reachable object. If the current is dangerously strong, find a safe area and reach towards the person with any object.