Record number of rescue-related calls in K-Country this May, officials say

Provincial public safety officials are reminding the public to heed some basic safety advice, as visitor numbers continue to increase in the Kananaskis Country.

Calls ranged from overdue or lost hikers to minor injuries and serious accidents

This May saw a record number of rescue-related calls in the Kananaskis Country, ranging from lost or overdue hikers to ankle injuries to serious accidents. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Provincial public safety officials say there were a record number of rescue-related calls in May as visitor numbers continue to increase in the Kananaskis Country.

The calls ranged from overdue or lost hikers, to minor injuries and serious accidents.

"May was busier than the last two years, and we're on average seeing a steady increase in calls. This May we had 51 calls … versus last year, 29 calls, so we're on that steady uptick of calls year after year," Kananaskis Country public safety specialist Mike Koppang told CBC. 

"I think there's more people out … we have more people hiking, and as a result, we have more accidents."

Koppang said official continue to see many properly prepared for the outdoors, but adds their overall advice for visitors includes bringing proper gear, clothing for changing weather and the right footwear. Many of the incidents involve slips, trips and falls.

Kananaskis Country Public Safety Specialist Mike Koppang said the volume of people heading into Kananaskis Country is part of the reason there have been more rescue-related calls. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"That can often be alleviated with the proper footwear," Koppang said. "Like people coming out with a stiff-soled boot that goes above their ankle … if you don't have something that's supportive, it's easy to roll your ankle and have it turn into a fairly serious injury quickly."

Koppang's safety advice includes carrying bear spray, researching and planning for the trip and leaving your information with a contact person.

"Most of our region out here doesn't have cellphone coverage, so cellphone is not going to be the most appropriate way," Koppang said.

"SPOTS are really good tools, satellite telephones are really good tools. Worst-case scenario leave a message with somebody at home that if you're not home by a certain time, they know where you are and we can sort of initiate a response based on that."

Koppang said this is the time of year that bears will be out and about, and there is still some avalanche danger. Another concern at this time of year is the danger of fast-flowing, very cold rivers.

"Now's not the time to be going out and trying to do your first canoe trip down the Bow River downstream or around Canmore … it's not the time to go paddling in the rivers around here."

Some experienced hikers and rock climbers have also emphasized the importance of preparation.

Natalie Terriff said she heads to the backcountry four or five times a week for climbing, hiking or trail running. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"I always think about where I'm going before I go, try and plan and know what the weather's supposed to be like," said hiker Natalie Terriff, who said she heads to the backcountry four or five times a week for climbing, hiking or trail running.

"I'll check the appropriate app, and then bringing the appropriate gear, so like rain jacket, rain pants, extra layers."

Terriff said she will also take into account the number of hikers on the trails, and she makes a point of going further afield on the weekends.

Hiker Hana Gair said it's all about the preparation, and also knowing when to turn back.

"I think a lot of it is being prepared for the elements, you never know what you're going to get especially out here, and I think that throws a lot of people for a loop," she said.

"It's always bringing sunscreen, bug spray, lots of water, first aid, bear spray, the whole list … There's been so many stories of people, you're not expecting to get stuck somewhere and then you do, and then you have to make sure you're prepared."

Koppang said the weekends in July and August are the busiest "call times" for incidents.

It's still unclear whether the new Kananaskis Country visitors fees will affect visitor numbers this summer. 

With files from Dave Gilson


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