Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

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IncaRoads
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Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by IncaRoads »

"Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park sees ‘staggering’ increase in search and rescues"
Updated Sep 11, 2020; Posted Sep 11, 2020
By Emily Bingham | ebingham@mlive.com

ONTONAGON, MICH. -- On a recent overnight in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, where he works as park supervisor, Michael Knack watched as hiker after hiker trudged past wearing backpacks that appeared “agonizingly heavy” for the person wearing them.

It was the kind of scene Knack has witnessed far more than usual at the Porkies this year — overwhelmed, likely inexperienced visitors tackling the park’s rugged terrain — and one to which he attributes an astonishing spike in search-and-rescue calls so far in 2020.

In the roughly 10 weeks between June 22, when the park reopened its campgrounds for the year, and September 7, marking Labor Day weekend’s unofficial end to summer, park rangers answered 30 search-and-rescue or medical extraction calls from stranded visitors.

In comparison, the park saw only six search-and-rescue calls in all of 2019.

Knack called this summer’s volume of calls “staggering.”

“Thirty in a very short window is an alarmingly high number,” he said.

Knack said the number of rescues likely can be tied to a surge of new and inexperienced visitors this year, echoing the 2020 trend of more people trying out outdoor recreation as a social-distancing alternative to other travel and leisure activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would attribute a lot of [the rescues] to first timers coming out ill prepared or underprepared,” he said. “People are underestimating the difficulty and distance involved in their hikes. They’re biting off more than they can chew.”

Most of those 30 medical emergency calls were for overexertion, heat exhaustion, or lower-leg injuries owing to inappropriate footwear, Knack said.

Illustrating the point, Knack said park staff has seen visitors unboxing brand-new hiking boots right before embarking on a hike — a wilderness no-no, as most hiking boots need time to break in. In other instances, staff saw visitors unpacking small recreational kayaks, sales tags still attached, to learn how to paddle on Lake Superior — a notoriously unpredictable lake better suited for larger, sturdier sea kayaks (and more paddling experience).

The Porkies, Michigan’s only state park to be designated as wilderness, sprawl out over 60,000 acres of rough topography with weather that can change abruptly, adding an extra layer of challenge to rescue efforts. In most cases, the best tool to extract an injured visitor is a special wheeled stretcher called a spokes basket (also known as a litter, or “wheel-a-body"), which requires the combined strength of several rangers moving at about one mile per hour.

Looking ahead to the number of fall and winter camping reservations already made suggests that the park will continue to be busy in the coming months, Knack said. And while he loves to see new people exploring Michigan’s beautiful outdoors, he urges visitors to come to the park prepared.

“My message would be, please look at a map. Please look at the topography. Please bring your 10 essentials. Please stop at the visitor center and talk to a ranger if you have any questions at all — about weather conditions, trail difficulty, or even camping gear questions,” he said. We’d be happy to answer them ahead of time, before you may end up in a situation where you need assistance later."
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by dcclark »

I'm not surprised. There are some stories on the Porkies facebook group that will curl your toenails.

Has anyone heard anything similar from Isle Royale this year?
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by Kelly »

We came over with a party of five who had no water filter. This was fortunately discovered during LNT. There had been other signs of not being prepared for ISRO conditions. A later report indicated that they had an enjoyable time at Rock Harbor.

Other than that, everyone we encountered seemed reasonably well-prepared.

However, it wasn't until we were about to return that we met someone who had visited before. Every other person we met was a first-timer.
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by torpified »

Kelly wrote: Sun Sep 27, 2020 6:48 am
However, it wasn't until we were about to return that we met someone who had visited before. Every other person we met was a first-timer.
This is interesting. Supposing it's not a small sample/large fluctuation artifact, and supposing as well that the pattern is a significant departure from other years, I wonder if there's something about floatplane-only delivery and/or the wider lockdown that would boost the representation of first-timers among island visitors?

I'm a repeat offender who didn't make it this year. Even if I were in striking distance, I would have been way too chicken to get on a float plane. But I doubt that the explanation is a strong correlation between previous visits and fear of flying.
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by Midwest Ed »

Kelly wrote: Sun Sep 27, 2020 6:48 amWe came over with a party of five who had no water filter. This was fortunately discovered during LNT. There had been other signs of not being prepared for ISRO conditions. A later report indicated that they had an enjoyable time at Rock Harbor.
I'm not addressing this group specifically but as long as they had approximately a double quantity of stove fuel then they'd be OK. "Back in the day" as they say, we had no water filters.... and the Rock Harbor trail was uphill, both directions. :oops:
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by Bobcat1 »

Re: double fuel for boiling drinking water, they would benefit from a good-size cooking pot too. I once busted my water filter and used boiling for a couple days to finish my trip. Boiling four liters or so of water in a 600ml cook pot takes way longer than I wanted to spend on it!
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Re: Porkies Sees Increase in Search and Rescues

Post by Kelly »

torpified wrote: Sun Sep 27, 2020 8:47 am This is interesting. Supposing it's not a small sample/large fluctuation artifact, and supposing as well that the pattern is a significant departure from other years, I wonder if there's something about floatplane-only delivery and/or the wider lockdown that would boost the representation of first-timers among island visitors?
Whatever else it does, the seaplane does reduce travel time over boat use. If that's the only option, many first-timers lose the price point of comparison.

Voyageur is still my favorite, followed by teleportation.

I mentioned this apparent influx of first-timers to a ranger, and she said that this is what they had observed as well.
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