Staying Safe in the Red River Gorge

I write this following a full day of searching for a lost camper in the Red River Gorge (RRG).  That is not my normal thing to do as I do not actively serve on a search and rescue (SAR) team.     In these situations, I feel terrible for the family that is looking and hoping for good news.  Something about this particular situation compelled me to get involved, so I volunteered for the day.  To those of you reading this who actively serve in search and rescue, I salute you.  It can be unforgiving work to do so in the rugged RRG. 

Serving yesterday on a SAR team is not my strong suit.  That for certain. What I can do is write about safety and offer anyone reading this some helpful hints if you intend on going to the RRG.  Please note that I will be offering an extensive video and blog piece on my website in the coming weeks on this subject as well.  I was already neck deep in interviews and gathering research for that one.  The search yesterday makes me want to put out this piece together to help others as soon as possible. 

There are 5 things that must happen anytime you want to go to the Red River Gorge area to have a safe, yet fun time there. 

• Tell someone where you are going, who you are going with, and when you expect to return.  If there is a need for SAR to find you, this will help greatly.  Even if it is for a simple day hike, please leave this info with someone you can trust to contact authorities if you do not come home on time. 

• Do not depend upon technology to work for you.  Sometimes cell service is available, but most times it is not in the RRG. I think we sometimes see stories in the news that cell phone pings can pinpoint your location.  I don’t know a whole lot about that to be quite honest.  What I do know is that pinpointing a location with a cellphone ping is not always an option.

• If you get lost and cannot find your way, the first thing you should always do is to stop.  Sit down and wait for SAR to find you.  By walking around, especially after dark, you exponentially increase the opportunity to get hurt and more lost.  Listen to me on this.  I have researched hundreds of instances of injury and tragedy in the wilderness, so I can teach effective safety and survival classes.

The best way to increase your likelihood of survival is to stop and wait rather than self-rescue. 

• No matter where you go, take basic supplies with you.  Every single time.  If you set up a base camp and want to go explore a bit, then take those supplies with you.  Those supplies should include a covering such as a tarp or garbage bag, water and water filtration options (always start a trip hydrated too), fire starting kit, and signaling equipment (whistle, light, bright colored items).

• Know your limitations.  I ruck/hike regularly.  Four times per week I ruck with a 40 lb pack and go 2-3 miles.  I was in no way prepared to go the 10+ miles yesterday.  I actually held my, much younger, team up on the search.  Use that as a good lesson for you. 

Don’t expect to go out and hike up and down in the gorge for several miles, unless you are young or have a lot of experience doing it.  Plan your trip so you have plenty of time to get back to camp, vehicle, or similar.  You do not want to be in a position where you are hiking in the dark in the gorge. 

Don’t let these situations dissuade you from going to the gorge.  I actually hope it encourages you to go out often, but do it in a safe manner.  The RRG is a special place in so many ways.  It is worth your time and a few dollars in gas to there.  Just do it so you can come home tired but happy.  If you do that.  We will most likely come upon one another somewhere on, or off, the trail!

Craig Caudill is a lifelong resident of Winchester and serves as Director of Nature Reliance School. He is the author of Extreme Wilderness Survival and Ultimate Wilderness Gear.  Please feel free to contact Craig at info@naturereliance.org or through any of the various social media platforms available.