Outdoor activities have become a popular pastime during the coronavirus pandemic as adventure seekers and couch surfers alike take to hiking trails for a bit of a reprieve.
But while hiking might be a relatively safe, socially distanced activity, the challenges of weather, nature and physical strain have led to a rash of injuries and some deaths on the trails.
In September, three hikers died in six days in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. 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 from her injuries after being rescued in November.
The increase in parkgoers — upward of 90 percent over the previous year in some parks — has added pressure to staff members and the authorities, who are already under financial and staffing constraints because of the pandemic.
“People need to be careful, especially now, as resources for search and rescue can be thin,” said Lisa Herron, a spokeswoman for the United States Forest Service at Lake Tahoe Basin in California.
The agency has not yet compiled data on injuries and deaths for the year, but several park rangers and rescue agency representatives say anecdotally the incidents have increased with the surge in visitors.
El Dorado County, Calif., one of the five counties surrounding Lake Tahoe, has back country and wilderness — including Desolation Wilderness, which is accessible only on foot or horseback — and has had an increase in calls this year for aid 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 of the calls involved people “way out of their experience level and possibly taking more risks, due to the pandemic and being cooped up at home.”