Just before 1p.m. today Santa Barbara County firefighters and the Search & Rescue Team were called to the Seven Falls area to respond to a 911 call of a hiker in distress. The hiker was spotted from the air by a County Air Support helicopter after those on the ground had difficulty locating him. It appeared he had worked his way out of the canyon bottom and was exploring one of the rock outcroppings above the falls when he became dehydrated and was unable to make his way back down.
The hiker then took shelter in a shaded area and called 911. Once he was spotted by the helicopter, a firefighter paramedic was lowered down to assess his condition and eventually to attach a harness so he could be hoisted up into the helicopter. He was then transported by air to the Santa Barbara airport and from there via ambulance to Cottage Hospital.
Though the operation was over quickly and it appears the hiker is recovering, it highlights a growing problem: search and rescue operations in off-trail locations like Seven Falls and Cathedral Peak are on the rise, as well as other front country trails. A survey of local hiking groups indicates that the trails are becoming ever more popular and that people are frequently heading off the main trail to explore places like Seven Falls, often without giving much thought to what they might be getting themselves into.
The message that the Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue would like to emphasize is that there is no substitute for being as prepared as possible when heading out on the trail. “Having plenty of water and enough food is important,” says Nelson Trichler, long time leader of the County Search and Rescue Team.
“Wearing the proper type of shoes to help prevent leg and ankle injuries is also important,” he adds, “as well as having someone along with you should there be a problem.” Most important may be to learn to develop what trail experts call ‘situational awareness,’ which includes thinking about what might go wrong and what you can do to prevent that from happening.”
While it is tempting to head off the trail to explore a cool looking rock formation or to scramble past the Seven Falls pools to see what’s further up the canyon, it is important to know your limitations. Heat exhaustion can creep up quickly and it is often much hotter up in the hills than it is in town. That is especially the case if you are hiking alone.