See that little speck in the middle of the photo? That's Theresa, after scrambling down the canyon walls to get around some bighorn sheep.

Last month, I discussed ways in which we can all avoid trouble while hiking during the extreme summer heat.

Meanwhile, the trail rescues continue.

According to a statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, a man was hoisted off the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree National Park after suffering a heat-related emergency on July 4. The man was hiking alone and called 911 at approximately 12:30 p.m. A helicopter crew was called in, and the man was located after an extensive search. Medics gave him first aid; he was then transported to a hospital.

Here in the Coachella Valley, it’s often the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit, the volunteer Desert Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, or the volunteer Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit who are called upon to help hikers in distress. According to a recent News Channel 3 report by Crystal Jimenez, the Aviation Unit gets the second-most calls during the summer months (behind the spring months). The crew has made about 184 air rescues since March 2021.

On the ground, the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit conducted 69 rescues last year, according to Jimenez’s story, while the Desert Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team conducted 22 rescues last year.

Sharon Ollenburger, of the Desert Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, advised hikers to “plan your hike and hike your plan,” to let people know where you are going, and to make sure you stay on route, according to News Channel 3.

The Desert Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team offered other tips: Consider the weather. Hike as early or as late as possible. Wear appropriate shoes or boots, and take lots of water, safety items, a first-aid kit, a map/GPS, sunscreen, sunglasses and food.

It seems like common sense … yet so many people don’t do these basic things.

The client of a friend of mine is an experienced and enthusiastic hiker from New York who likes to hit the trails during his visits to the desert. He and his girlfriend were in Palm Springs in early March and asked for a good hiking suggestion. Knowing they were in decent shape, my friend told them about the Art Smith Trail in Palm Desert—explaining that if you get an early start, you can go all the way to Palm Springs. The trail starts at Highway 74 across from the Visitor Center, and has an elevation gain of more than 1,400 feet in 8.3 miles, where it intersects with Dunn Road—about halfway to Palm Springs. She reminded him to take a lot of water and snacks.

Well … they started on the trail in the afternoon, carrying a little water and a couple of granola bars, thinking they would hike all the way to Palm Springs. The sun went down about 90 minutes into their hike; darkness fell well before they reached any of the trails that would take them down to where they needed to be. (This area is a spider web of trails.) They were tired, out of water and food, and chilly, since they were wearing only shorts and T-shirts. Thankfully, they were otherwise fine.

No one plans for a rescue when they set out on a hike—but much like life, the trails can throw a curve and veer you off track. This could end up costing you miles and hours—or worse.

He texted my friend as darkness set in and explained they had lost the trail and had no clue where they were—but mentioned they had passed a couple of old bulldozers sitting in the desert. That clue was key: Regular hikers know about the old, abandoned bulldozers that sit along Dunn Road. That meant the two should be able to take an easy hike out in the daylight.

According to my friend, the pair spent a very uncomfortable night out on the desert trails, but they were able to find the path back to the bulldozers and the trail down after sunrise the next morning. They were home safe by 9 a.m.

As my good friend and fellow hiker Marnie Hesson likes to say: Be prepared, and know where you’re going. Carry more water than you think you’ll need when exploring desert trails. Bring a light source and some basic first-aid materials, especially if you’re hiking any type of challenging trail. Know and respect your environment, the terrain, the time of year and the time of day when you are hiking.

I once had trouble not far from where my friend’s client did. A trail buddy and I were hiking the Dunn Road Trail—going the opposite route, to connect to the Art Smith Trail and come out on Highway 74. Although we got our start at 5 a.m. (unlike the two above), and we came across those abandoned bulldozers, we somehow missed the Art Smith Trail—and ended up in a wash. We were then diverted by a herd of bighorn sheep—and when I say “herd,” I mean there were more than 100 sheep scattered throughout the wash, and there was no way were we getting past them. We decided to go around them and climbed up a long, treacherous hill before we could drop back down into the wash. Going down the hill, I stepped on a rock, and the ground fell out from under it. (There are many “black holes” like this in the desert!) I must have tumbled 75 to 100 feet, if not more. Fortunately, I was able to get up—but I had blood running down both arms and both legs. Thankfully, the pack on my back prevented me from hitting my head during the tumble.

We eventually made it back down to the wash, and had to bushwhack our way out. We ran out of water nearly a mile before exiting along Highway 111 … around 2 p.m. It was HOT! We were somewhere in Rancho Mirage. We were able to phone a friend and catch a ride back to our starting point.

No one plans for a rescue when they set out on a hike—but much like life, the trails can throw a curve and veer you off track. This could end up costing you miles and hours—or worse.

To repeat: Be prepared! Know where you’re going; bring more water than you think you’ll need, as well as a light source and a first-aid kit. Most importantly, always, always, always tell someone where you are going.

Theresa Sama

Theresa Sama is an outdoor enthusiast who writes the Independent’s hiking/outdoors column. She has been running and hiking the Coachella Valley desert trails for more than 10 years and enjoys sharing...

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