Wilderness officials ask hikers to be careful since rescues can spread coronavirus

  • Under a midday winter solstice sun, a trio of climbers make their way up a slope on Mount Washington, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in New Hampshire. Neither the sun nor the mercury rose very high as temperatures barely climbed out of the single digits on the shortest day of the year. The mountain had just 8 hours and 51 minutes of daylight on Saturday. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

Monitor staff
Published: 3/25/2020 1:41:39 PM

After Fish and Game had to use the Cog Railway as an ambulance for an injured hiker, officials are asking people to be extra careful in the outdoors because it’s impossible to maintain social distance while performing a rescue. 

The message comes as hiking trails and wilderness areas draw larger than usual crowds during the COVID-19 shutdown, as people want to get out of their home but have few entertainment options.

“Putting themselves at risk also means causing a multitude of first responders to abandon social distancing and puts them at risk as well,” Major David Walsh, assistant chief of law enforcement for N.H. Fish and Game, told NHPR.

Treating injured visitors can also stress the medical capabilities of rural areas, which tend to be comparatively limited under normal circumstances, but may be taxed as growing numbers of people seek to be tested or treated for COVID-19.

At the same time, many rural areas are struggling with an influx of visitors from cities seeking to escape COVID-19, coming to second homes or rentals or camping areas, which in turn puts a strain on local grocery supplies and medical facilities.

Officials in the Lake Placid area of New York, which normally goes out of its way to lure visitors, have gone so far as asking people to stay away. “We are asking that you respect the integrity of our hospitals and infrastructure and not travel to Essex County from any area at this time,” said a statement from the county board of supervisors.

The White Mountain National Forest remains open, but buildings are closed. People needing information are encouraged to call Forest Headquarters 536-6100 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or check fs.usda.gov/whitemountain.

The Appalachian Mountain Club, the Randolph Mountain Club and the Dartmouth Outing Club all shut down their cabins and huts last week in response to the growing virus threat.

On Sunday a hiker slid 200 feet and barely escaped a fatal fall into a ravine on Mount Washington. Her companion called for help but steep, icy terrain was so precarious and her injuries so serious that the rescue  team from Twin Mountain and several conservation officers requested of the Cog Railway to send up a special train to carry her back down.

The Cog acts as an ambulance an average of about once a winter, according to Fish and Game.

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