Given their trailside access in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), AMC’s high-mountain huts staff are often the first responders to backcountry emergencies.
Along with cooking, cleaning, and providing trail information, hut croo also serve as volunteers in search-and-rescue incidents. Virtually all AMC backcountry staff—hut croo, caretakers, and trail crew members—are certified in Wilderness First Aid; some are Wilderness First Responder-certified; and others are Wilderness EMTs.
Wilderness medicine training is a key component of the multiday hut croo staff orientation held in the White Mountains each spring. Participants learn skills such as how to splint broken arms and legs, treat soft-tissue injuries, and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
“It’s something we take seriously, and the training is called upon time and time again,” says James Wrigley, AMC’s huts manager and search-and-rescue coordinator.
Along with a dozen or so other groups, AMC participates in an annual average of 55 search-and-rescue operations in the state. (WMNF officials are responsible for search and rescue in the Cutler River Drainage, which includes Tuckerman Ravine, from December through May.) In 2016, AMC’s 54 staff-assisted missions in the Whites ranged from responding to medical emergencies to extracting lost or injured hikers.
New Hampshire Fish and Game realizes a shortfall in its search-and-rescue fund each year. To help finance efforts, in 2015 the department rolled out its Hike Safe card, a fee-based registration that excuses recreationists from the cost of search-and-rescue missions undertaken on their behalf. A cardholder still can be held liable if Fish and Game deems the person acted negligently or recklessly, or if the person intentionally created a situation requiring rescue. (When the program began, Hike Safe card-carriers were shielded from being charged for search-and-rescue costs in cases of negligence; that changed in 2016.)
Cards cost $25 annually for an individual or $35 for a family. Fish and Game issued 4,178 Hike Safe cards in 2016, resulting in revenue of more than $119,450.
Staff at AMC facilities provide information on the Hike Safe card, as well as other hike-planning and safety tips, to guests and visitors. AMC also promotes hiker safety through the publication of its books, a hiking skills video series, and the biannual journal Appalachia, which provides thoughtful analyses of backcountry mishaps in its Accidents section.
Through its Mountain Leadership School and educational workshops, AMC also provides training in backcountry skills, as well as certification in wilderness medicine, to help adventurers stay safe.
“We’re dedicated to helping people prepare properly so they can avoid injury in the backcountry and develop the skills needed to assist the injured when trouble strikes,” Wrigley says.