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What others say: Prepare for the worst

Posted: June 10, 2014 - 1:22pm

Many residents were impacted by the news of missing hiker Sharon Buis.

That’s because it could have been any one of us. Juneauites pride themselves on the accessibility of our wilderness. So many of us escape alone for a quick jaunt on the Perseverance Trail, a short hike out the rolling trails of Sandy Beach, or a work-break run up the Salmon Creek Trail. It’s true many live in Juneau because amazing vistas are around every tree and at the peak of every mountaintop. You don’t have to travel far off the trails to escape into our rainforest.

It’s easy to get complacent, especially when you know the area well. That complacency could lead to leaving your cell phone in the car next to your water bottle (because its clunky) and that wind breaker on the passenger seat (because the clouds have nearly dissipated.

It’s only a short outing, after all.

We’re not saying complacency was to blame in the case of Buis; there’s far too many questions and mysteries to draw a factual conclusion. And Buis wasn’t a woman of inexperience, that’s one thing we know for certain.

The thing is, Alaska is as unpredictable as it’s always been; the weather is shifty and the footing on trails is as challenging and steep as it was when the glaciers first retreated.

People go missing in Alaska, float planes fly into the mist and don’t return, and storms make waves that swallow boats whole. Alaska can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Sharon Buis, as well as all those who lost someone in years past. These loses afford us an opportunity, however, to learn how we can be better prepared in the wilderness.

Even with expert search teams nearby, the best way to stay alive in an unexpected situation is to be prepared.

Buis’ car was still in the gravel parking lot the Monday morning after she had gone missing. Inside were hair scrunchies and a water bottle. There was no note or schedule letting people know where she was going. A receipt found in her car was the only clue as to when she was last seen.

“It’s just really difficult because she did not leave any information about where she was going and what her plans are,” JMR member Doug Wessen told the Empire. “It’s all speculation, it’s all a mystery.”

Bruce Bowler, the leader of SEADOGS, reminded residents out on the trails to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back; charge a cell phone and take it along; dress in layers and bright colors; and carry rain gear, dry socks, a jacket and signals.

“A Space Blanket is cheap, light, and may just save someone’s life,” he said in an email to the Empire.

What happened to missing hiker Sharon Buis remains a mystery. We hope someday the mystery is solved.

When hikers go missing, experts talk about how to stay safe when venturing into the wilderness.

Have a hike plan, complete with return time and travel plan. Write it down, share it with others, and then stick to it. Take the basics: layers, water, food and a space blanket.

Without knowing for sure what happened to Sharon Buis, there are still lessons to be learned. When experiencing Alaska’s wilderness, prepare for every worst-case scenario imaginable.

— Juneau Empire,

June 8

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