Staying safe during the summer
Whether snow skiing during wintertime, water skiing on Lake Tahoe during the summer months, or backcountry travel at any time, Lake Tahoe is appropriately billed as Americas year-round playground.However, there are many who take the playground for granted and unfortunately some who find out how unforgiving the Sierra can be at any given time.Recent examples include: A Soda Springs paragliding instructor and his student died earlier this month when their glider crashed near Mount Rose Ski Area. The incident is still under investigation, according to a Washoe County Sheriffs Office source. A 19-year-old California man died last Tuesday from an apparent drowning in shallow water at Kiva Beach on the South Shore. A 23-year-old Stateline man died and another was hospitalized on June 2 when their boat crashed into rocks just north of Sand Harbor in the early morning hours.Incidents that result in fatalities are uncommon, and for the most part, playing at Lake Tahoe at any time of year can be enjoyable and safe. Even though exercise is always good, at the same time, it is always advisable to exercise some precaution and common sense.Anytime youre doing anything, whether its backcountry hiking, parasailing, paragliding, jet skiing, or any of the things you do here, there is a common sense checklist you should go through, said Bill Devine, patrol division sergeant for the Washoe County Sheriffs Office. You want to cover all the common sense bases that will ensure your safety.Any safety checklist can vary depending on the activity, yet there are some common links. For one, even the smallest of details can safe a life. For another, it is always a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected.Take boating safety for example.If theres one thing we could emphasize, it would be the importance of a lifejacket, or PFD, particularly when the wind comes up and the water starts getting rough, said Jack Leth, spokesman for U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary North Lake Tahoe Flotilla.To go one step further, he pointed out that Coast Guard regulations require personnel to wear a PFD at all times.Even for a strong swimmer, its almost impossible to put on a personal floatation device once youve fallen overboard, Leth said. Unfortunately, you can never predict when youre going to fall into the water.Safe equipment and boater education also rank high on any list of priorities on the lake. The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers boating safety classes and free courtesy vessel safety examinations periodically through the summer, said Leth.Lake Tahoes high water level this summer is one factor boaters need to consider.Rocks people saw last year will most likely be covered up this year, making them very hard to see, U.S. Coast Guard officer Joel Heinecke said.Heinecke also warned that not all rocks and dangerous obstacles on the lake are marked by buoys.Filing a float plan is another precaution for anyone who plans to venture on to Lake Tahoe, whether its on a sail boat, power boat, kayak, jet ski, raft or family day cruise. Go online to http://www.fishonthefly.com for information about float plans.
Similar precautions should be followed when headed into the backcountry. Start with letting others know where you are going and when you expect to return.People do it. Youre not breaking the law if you dont, youre just enhancing your chances of not having help if you should need it, Devine said. Theres nothing more frustrating to the family if something happens and they have no idea where youre at.Washoe County Search & Rescue Commander Sgt. Russ Pedersen added one more point.Thats a key, Pedersen said about informing others about backcountry travel plans. Second, stick to that plan; sometimes its easy to go out and end up changing the plan.And know the area youre going to. Get a map or talk to other people who have been there so you can get a visual picture of what its like.Other backcountry checklist items might include taking along water, snacks, sunscreen, and a cell phone.Additional clothing is a good idea because it is always possible for a simple half-day hike to turn into something much longer. Many times, hikers will go out on a warm day dressed in T-shirts and shorts, then find they are not prepared when night falls. Temperatures can drop into the 20s or 30s at higher elevations even during the summer months, according to Pedersen.At least have layered clothing because you never know what will happen. You may not get in trouble, but you may run into somebody else who is.Modern technology cell phones among other things has enhanced safety in the backcountry. High-tech hiking still isnt foolproof. For example, while a lost hiker may be able to call 9-1-1, search and rescue units still require basic information so they know where to look.Cell phones are a very effective tool, but you dont want to rely on them as your only lifeline, Devine said.
This is the first in a three-part series in which well will take a look at summertime recreational safety in Truckee and the Lake Tahoe Basin, both on the water and in the backcountry. The second part will look at hiking and other activities in the backcountry and the third part will look at safety on Lake Tahoe.
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