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July 26, 2012
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Search and rescue calls surge

It's been a busy season in the Lake Tahoe backcountry.

El Dorado County Search and Rescue volunteers have already racked up as many responses as they would in a typical year, according to numbers from the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.

County search and rescue teams usually receive about 50 calls for service each year, said Deputy Sheriff and search and rescue coordinator Greg Almos. The county's volunteers have already been called out to 47 rescues in 2012, said Almos, who added that he expects to receive another 20 to 30 calls by Dec. 31.

In four days stretching from July 13 to July 16, volunteers responded to five calls for help. On July 16, two calls - one for a stranded hiker near Horsetail Falls and a second for an injured hiker in Desolation Wilderness - were received within 40 minutes of each other, according to sheriff's records.

Douglas County Sheriff's Search and Rescue volunteers haven't seen quite the surge in calls as the California side, receiving 26 requests for service so far this year, according to an email from Sgt. Jim Halsey.

The number of calls is about average for this point in the year. Douglas Search and Rescue received 46 calls for service by the end of July 2011. They had 12 and 30 by the end of July in 2010 and 2009, respectively.

About half the calls received by the El Dorado County Search and Rescue team this year stem from people hiking unprepared, Almos said. There have also been plenty of search and rescue calls for medical aid, including responses for cliff jumpers at Angora Lakes and a climber who fell Sunday at Lover's Leap, said Leona Allen, spokeswoman for Lake Valley Fire Protection District, which joins search and rescue volunteers on backcountry calls that require medical assistance.

Search and rescue volunteers have also responded to about 10 calls this season for people getting lost coming down from Mount Tallac, Almos said.

"It's been a very busy summer," Allen said.

She encouraged people to make a plan for where they intend to travel in the backcountry and stick to it. The plan, as well as the time of return, should be given to someone who is not traveling with the party, Allen said.

Both Allen and Almos advised against people traveling in the backcountry alone.

People should bring a backpack, warm clothes and a flashlight, even if they only plan on day hiking, Almos recommended. Sierra Nevada weather can change rapidly, and people should always be aware of the forecast, according to Almos.

He also reminded people the tools they may rely on during everyday life are not dependable once they are out of range.

"The biggest thing I can put out there is do not rely on your cell phone," Almos said.

While smart phones provide handy tools like GPS, compasses and weather forecasts, the devices often don't get reception in the backcountry and leave people without their assumed security blanket, Almos said.

In reporting their plan to an outside party, people should also let them know what color clothes and gear they will have to assist CALSTAR or California Highway Patrol helicopters that may become involved in a search, Almos said.

With warm weather in the forecast some of the most popular weeks of summer coming, Allen said she expects the calls for help to keep coming.

"I think it's going to stay busy for the rest of summer," Allen said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jul 26, 2012 07:16PM Published Jul 26, 2012 07:15PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.