By M. C. Millman –

When Chaverim started their search and rescue hiking team 16 years ago, they certainly had no idea of the huge increased demand in their services the years would progressively bring. At that time, having a group of specially trained Chaverim search and rescue hikers seemed like a good idea. This was logical due to Rockland County’s close vicinity to both the 376 Rockland acres and 46,000 total acreage of Kakiet and Harriman State Parks, with the plethora of over 200 miles of hiking trails combined.

Over the years, the increased interest in hiking by the burgeoning Monsey community, including its many schools, camps and organizations, has led to an increase in demand for Chaverim’s search and rescue hiking team. This has been proven by the countless calls received annually of people lost in the woods during the week or unsure of if they will be able to get home in time for Shabbos or Yom Tov.

The members of the Chaverim search and rescue team, which presently number around 40, meet once a week to hone their hiking and rescue skills. The practices can take place at any time of the day or night, during all elements and at all elevations. The group also uses compass navigation while bushwhacking from trail to trail.

This past Motzei Shabbos, the Chaverim search and rescue team left on one such predawn practice session at 3:15 a.m., arriving in time for sunrise and coffee at the top of their chosen location by 5:20. The group gains skills through such practice and through in-class training workshops as well from time to time.

Chaverim’s search and rescue group not only utilizes search and rescue databases and are equipped with high-end equipment such as GPS satellite trackers that are monitored at all times by the Chaverim command center, but the group is also known for their skills in dividing a given area into carefully mapped-out grids. The grids are sectioned off by roads, mountains, gas lines, rivers and streams so that searches can be conducted in an organized fashion.

Last year, the organization was called in to search for a lost boy with special needs who had gone missing from camp. His yarmulka and hat were found floating in a stream, causing widespread panic. After creating a grid of the forested area the boy had wandered into, the Chaverim search and rescue team was able to successfully locate him, dehydrated and briefly unresponsive, but otherwise unharmed, 17 hours after he went missing.

In another case, Chaverim hikers were called to help a father with three children who had gone hiking at Kakiet Park on Shevii Shel Pesach. Having been erroneously told that the trail they chose would lead them back to their starting point, they got hopelessly lost trying to make it back before the zman. They also made the drastic error of trying to take a “short” cut that got them even more lost. Chaverim received the call 20 minutes before the zman and finally found them at Pine Meadow Lake.
In order to cut back on the need for the Chaverim Search and Rescue Team to do more than hone their skills during practice sessions, Chaverim would like to offer the following safety tips.

Keep in mind that it gets darker in the woods an hour earlier than in town due to the setting sun being blocked by mountains and trees.

Always tell someone back home where you plan on going: the area, the trail, the intended route, how long you plan on staying and which entrance you plan on utilizing.

Don’t take any shortcuts even if you think the area looks familiar going back down. Trails often make twists and turns so that one might not realize that one has just crossed over a mountain. Bushwhacking often only leads to completely different areas, leaving one hopelessly lost.

If lost:

Stay on the trail even if gets dark. Otherwise, this makes the search and rescue much more difficult.

Know that no matter the emergency, help is always a minimum of one hour away.

If you hit a road, any road, dirt or paved, or any open area, stay on it, as you will be more likely to be found on a road than in the woods.

If you can get a call through, be prepared to tell rescue teams where you are or at least as much information as you can, such as the name of the trail you were on and how many hours in you are.

Suggestion and Supplies for Camps/Schools/Groups

Bring along basic first-aid kits.

Bring flashlights for afternoon/long hikes.

Bring along enough responsible manpower so that there will be those who can accompany an injured person or those who can stay back at different points with worn-out hikers who can’t push themselves to the same limits as others in the group.

Bring charged cell phones, but don’t rely on them as cell phones do not work in all areas.

Even if there is no cell service for calls, try sending a text instead.

Plan the route before the trip. This can be done by calling Chaverim and asking to speak to an expert hiker for the area the group wants to visit.

Let Chaverim know ahead of time that the group is going on a hike and where they will be.

Bring a list of medications, allergies and medical history for all hikers

To contact Chaverim to let them know about a planned hike, or for any other reason, email or call the 24-hour emergency hotline: 845.371.6333.

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