| MMWD Park Ranger Matt Cerkel atop Mt. Tam|
Marin is an absolutely incredible mecca for hiking, and the Marin Municipal Water District’s 21,600 acres of pristine watershed land and 150 miles of trails and fire roads attract visitors from throughout the county and beyond. While beautiful, there are parts of MMWD’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed that are very wild and rugged, even to the most advanced hikers.
The recent rescue on the watershed highlights the importance of being prepared. At 7:51 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, April 26, MMWD rangers received a dispatch from Marin Sheriff’s Department about two hikers lost in the area between Alpine Lake and High Marsh Trail. MMWD rangers Matt Cerkel and John McConneloug, along with MMWD’s Deputy Sheriff, Joe Meesey, responded. Through a series of phone calls and GPS coordinates, they were able to pinpoint the location of the hikers. Reaching the stranded pair took several hours of hiking through thick brush and vegetation in nighttime darkness. With the assistance of volunteers from Marin County Search and Rescue, the hikers were assisted out of dense foliage and over the rugged terrain to edge of Alpine Lake. At nearly 4 a.m., they arrived at the water’s edge where Deputy Meesey was waiting in a Water District boat. Deputy Meesey ferried them from the water’s edge to safety.
“These were experienced hikers who still got lost” said Cerkel, who was in contact with the hikers throughout the ordeal to update them on the progress of the rescue. “The moral is anything can happen and it’s important to be prepared. The good news is they were reasonably well equipped, kept their cool, and did everything right, and the story had a happy ending.”
Since January, MMWD’s six rangers have responded to three search and rescue, 12 lost hiker, and 36 medical aid calls. The rangers wear multiple hats in their work to protect both MMWD’s drinking water supply as well as the two million visitors we welcome to the watershed each year. In addition to search and rescue, they serve as the watershed’s firefighters, medics, police, naturalists and historians. This year marks the centennial anniversary of MMWD’s park ranger program.
At a recent MMWD ranger staff meeting, the rangers talked about the importance of being prepared before hiking. Whether you’re visiting the watershed or enjoying one of Marin’s many other parks and open spaces, follow these ten tips for a safe outdoor experience:
1. Consider the time of year: The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is open from sunrise to sunset. Summer strolls on the watershed can last until 9 p.m. In comparison, in the winter north-facing drainages like Cataract Trail can get dark by 4:30 p.m.
2. Get an early start: If a route is new to you, or if takes a little longer due to weather or a wrong turn, you will still have enough time to get your hike in before it gets dark.
3. Tell a friend: Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. If you’re lost and no one knows it, you’ll be a lot harder to find.
4. Stay on designated trails and fire roads. Enough said.
5. Bring a map: Take a good map along with you. Don’t rely on your mobile device as many areas of the watershed lack cell service. You can find a printable map of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed at: marinwater.org/watershed-maps
6. Know the area: If you’re not familiar with an area, contact MMWD or the local land management agency for updates on problem areas, trail reroutes or closures.
7. Be prepared for changing conditions: Just because it’s only partly cloudy when you set off on your hike doesn’t mean it won’t be a complete downpour before you get back. Weather, trail conditions, and visibility can change quickly.
8. Bring extra stuff: Food and water (enough for 24 hours), an extra layer of clothing, a whistle and a flashlight may weigh a little more in your day pack, but they can literally be lifesavers in an emergency.
9. Watch your footing: Wear proper shoes and look where you step. Trails near waterfalls can be particularly wet and slippery.
10. Safety in numbers: Whenever possible hike with a friend. It will give you more options and reassurance in the event of an emergency.
Media Contact: Lon Peterson