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CONCORD, N.H. -- Hikers heading out to enjoy the fall foliage in New Hampshire's mountains should keep in mind some basic safety precautions. Days are getting shorter, increasing the possibility of hikers getting caught out on the trail in the dark if something goes awry; fallen leaves can make it harder to follow trails; and changeable weather, even snow at some altitudes, means layers of clothing are recommended, even for a day hike.

For example, on Sunday evening (October 3, 2010) at 6:40 p.m., rescuers were called to Miller State Park in Peterborough, N.H., to search for two lost 15-year-old girls hiking on the Wapack Trail. Fortunately, Hillsborough County Dispatch was able to obtain a GPS location of the young hikers by cell phone. N.H. Fish and Game Conservation Officer William Boudreau and Peterborough Police Officer Brian Dugre located the two girls two-tenths of a mile north of the Pack Monadnock summit on the Wapack Trail. The hikers were uninjured and walked out with assistance from the officers, reaching the parking lot at 9 p.m.

The teens had set out on their hike at 1:00 in the afternoon. They had underestimated the length of their trip and were still out on the trail when darkness fell. They did not have any flashlights with them or a map of the area. The girls were fortunate in being able to get cell phone reception and call for help. Once they could no longer find the trail, they stopped and waited for rescuers, which was the right thing to do, according to Fish and Game C.O. Todd Szewczyk.

"We encourage all hikers to make and follow an itinerary, and carry lights, such as a head lamp, on any hike for possible emergency use," said Szewczyk. "It is always better to be prepared."

N.H. Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lt. Todd Bogardus heads up the Department's Search and Rescue Team. "We love to see people getting out to enjoy New Hampshire's great outdoors, but it is critical to be prepared for the unexpected," says Bogardus. "The mountain environment can be a dangerous place. Fall hikers have to realize that winter-like conditions can come early to the mountains, so they must be prepared for conditions that are very different from those they might have enjoyed on summer hikes."

Mountain visitors should take special precautions to enjoy their adventures safely. "Hikers should most definitely look at high-mountain weather forecasts to be better prepared for conditions at this time of year," says Bogardus. "As a general rule, it's significantly colder and windier the higher you climb. As the season progresses, you're more likely to find snow and ice at higher elevations, too. Know the forecast and prepare for likely conditions with appropriate clothing. Even more critical -- assess the actual conditions in the field and act accordingly."

High in the White Mountains, temperatures can reach the single digits even in September; winds are often strong and chilling; visibility can be very poor in low clouds; and early snows are possible. Dress in layers to suit varying conditions and carry extra warm clothing and raingear in your pack. Above all, warns Bogardus, "Don't press onward "no matter what" - adjust your actual trip to conditions as you find them, and plan ahead for a safe return. Be willing to turn back."

Diminishing daylight hours present another challenge. "Getting an early start, taking maximum advantage of available daylight, is critical - as is having a good flashlight or headlamp, plus spare batteries, and a back-up source of light," says Bogardus. "Don't count on calling 911 after you can no longer see the trail."

As winter approaches, trail conditions become more difficult. Rebecca Oreskes of the White Mountain National Forest notes, "Before too long, trails will get snowy and icy, slowing people down and creating the need for specialty equipment in some areas. Crampons - special ice spikes strapped to boots - or similar traction devices can make slick ice-covered stretches of trail much easier to travel. And if the going gets much slower than anticipated, don't hesitate to turn around and head back down."

Some guidelines for safe hiking are outlined in the principles of "hikeSafe," a joint New Hampshire Fish and Game Department/White Mountain National Forest initiative to promote safe and responsible hiking.

The hikeSafe "Hiker Responsibility Code" sums up the basic tenets of backcountry safety: 1) Be prepared with appropriate knowledge and gear; 2) Let someone else know your plans; 3) Hiking groups should stick together, and not let themselves become separated; 4) Hikers should always be ready to turn back if circumstances, such as changing weather, dictate; 5) Hikers should be ready for emergencies; and 6) Those who know the code should share its lessons with others.

"Most autumn visitors to our state's forests and mountains have great experiences," says Bogardus, "and there's a better chance of having a satisfying trip if hikers follow the hikeSafe principles."

For more information about safe hiking - including the ten essential items you should have in your pack any time of year - visit

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