Outdoor activities have become a popular pastime during the coronavirus pandemic as adventure seekers and couch surfers take to the hiking trails for some respite.
But while hiking can be a relatively safe and socially remote activity, the challenges of weather, nature, and physical fatigue have resulted in a rash of injuries and some fatalities on the trails.
In September, three hikers died in six days in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. A hiker in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington who encountered a whiteout was revived after his heart stopped for 45 minutes. And a woman who went missing for two days on Mount Whitney in California died of her injuries after being rescued in November.
The increase in the number of visitors – more than 90% over the previous year in some parks – has increased the pressure on staff members and authorities, who already face financial and personnel constraints due to the pandemic.
“People have to be careful, especially now, because search and rescue resources can be slim,” said Lisa Herron, spokesperson for the United States Forest Service at Lake Tahoe Basin in California.
The agency has yet to compile injury and fatality data for the year, but several park rangers and representatives from rescue agencies anecdotally claim that incidents have increased with the increase in visitors. .
El Dorado County, California, one of five counties surrounding Lake Tahoe, has backcountry and nature – including Desolation Wilderness, which is only accessible by foot or horseback – and has had an increase in calls this year for help related to illness, injury and being lost, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sgt. Eric Palmberg, of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, said many calls involved people “beyond their level of experience and possibly taking more risks, due to the pandemic and being locked up in they.