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Experts Urge Safety This Summer

Southwick Beach
Jesse King

Thousands of people across the Northeast are expected to hit the peaks and lakes this summer — and local experts are urging hikers and swimmers to stay safe.

If you plan on hiking around any of the Adirondacks’ 46 peaks, Adirondack Mountain Club spokesman Neil Woodworth says bring a map and compass – and learn how to use them before going into the woods. He says proper planning is crucial to a safe hike. 

“Let’s say you wanna climb Mount Marcy," Woodworth proposes. "That’s a pretty good workout. So have you left enough time – you know, under normal conditions, that’s a full-day hike – to get back before it starts to get dark?”

Adirondack Trail
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
It's important to pack a map and compass before hitting the trail, as it's easy to get turned around.

Woodworth says poor planning is the most common mistake for new hikers. In fact, this spring a pair of hikers misjudged the time needed to scale Whiteface Mountain, the fifth-highest peak in New York state, and were picked up by Forest Rangers after first trying to call a taxi to the mountain’s summit. Woodworth says hikers can’t always count on a cell phone to reach help – especially in the interior Adirondack Park, where cell signal is limited. Woodworth recommends a spot device to send short messages in emergencies.

“It has the ability to communicate with a satellite using GPS technology," he explains. "That spot device goes to a national emergency center – so you want to be really careful that you only use these spot devices when you really, really have a problem…because if you activate the spot, you will get rescued.”

Woodworth also suggests packing a flashlight, and plenty of food and water. As far as gear is concerned, he says waterproof hiking boots are a must, and hikers should plan for rain and cooler weather with quick-drying, nylon clothing, and a poly-fleece parka or poncho. 

“In the low country where the wind is not an issue, a poncho is a very good solution for a rainy day," says Woodworth. "But a parka is necessary when you’re up above the timber line and you need protection – wind and rain protection.”

Equally important: hikers should set out in groups whenever possible. Woodworth says the Adirondack Mountain Club has three chapters in the Capital Region – for Glens Falls/Saratoga, Albany, and Schenectady – that offer a regular schedule of hikes with experienced leaders.

Stratton Pond
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Sheriff Zurlo says it's crucial to know the water you're swimming in.

If the lake is more your style, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo says boaters should bring lifejackets for all on board, and a fire extinguisher, horn, and cell phone for emergencies. He advises boaters and swimmers alike to avoid alcohol, and be aware of their surroundings.  

“Knowing the water [you're] swimming in, the depth of the water [is important] – and, you know, if you’re not an avid or a great swimmer, just stay closer to shore," Zurlo says. "I think the big thing is: go out with a group of people, just don’t go by yourself.”

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department patrols Saratoga Lake and parts of Sacandaga Lake, the Hudson, and the Mohawk. Zurlo adds recent storms have taken down a number of trees in the area, and swimmers and boaters should watch out for fallen debris.

No matter where you go, surgical oncologist Dr. Lindy Davis says it’s important to avoid UV exposure by covering up or using a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF. She says UV exposure is a common cause of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. 

“So avoid tanning beds, and if you’re out in the sun, either wear a sunscreen or the protective garments – the SPF garments that are made now – and stay out of the sun between 9 [a.m.] and 3 p.m., when the rays are strongest," Davis advises. "Be in the shade, wear a hat, sunglasses, protect your eyes as well.”

Davis adds those who have a weakened immune system or a family history of skin cancer are also at risk, and should keep an eye out for any new moles or lesions that may need to be checked out.

“If you notice that the lesion doesn’t look symmetrical, maybe the borders are irregular – signs such as bleeding, or a new symptom such as itching or a darker pigmentation that’s not evenly colored – those would be signs that that could be a skin cancer," she explains.

Davis says most skin cancers can be removed surgically, and more aggressive types like melanoma are treatable when caught early. Albany Med, with the help of 11 local dermatologists, will offer free skin cancer screenings on June 1. Davis says health insurance is not required to participate, and any patients who fail their full-body skin exam will be connected to resources for a biopsy.

“You know, people might not realize that it’s good to have a dermatologist and have a full-body skin exam even if you’re younger," Davis adds. "Young people do develop skin cancers.”

You can call 518-262-0760 to make an appointment for a free screening at 99 Delaware Ave in Delmar. 

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