Each year, as weather in the Top of Utah warms and the last snow melts, hikers begin leaving the state's urban areas to trek into the outdoors.
Unfortunately, some of these hikers will become injured, overestimate their hiking ability or embark into the wilderness ill prepared -- keeping search and rescue teams hard at work, said Weber County Sheriff's Sgt. Brandon Toll.
With 67 hiker-related search and rescue callouts from 2004 to 2013 -- making up approximately 75 percent of all rescue operations in that time -- incidents involving hikers are not uncommon in Weber County.
Most of these incidents can be attributed to a few causes, Toll said, and can be avoided or made less serious if hikers:
* Stay on marked trails
* Don't overestimate their hiking ability
* Take adequate equipment with them on a hike
* Inform someone of the location they plan to hike and what time they should be expected home.
By investing in some of that advance planning, Peter Bradford averted what could have been a tragic situation when he took his two young sons and one of their cousins on an Oct. 29 overnight hiking trip up Centerville's Steed Canyon.
Armed with provisions to spend one night in the canyon -- food, water, a tent and sleeping bags -- the four were delayed in beginning their hike and arrived to camp later than they planned, Bradford said, adding he is an experienced outdoorsman.
The group planned to hike back via Rick's Creek Canyon the following day.
The four hikers awoke from a cold night spent in the protective confines of their sleeping bags and tent and ate the last of their food before embarking on the hike home -- which was longer than planned, as they had not made it fully halfway because of delays the previous day.
Bradford said he had not hiked in Rick's Creek Canyon before but intended to hike through the thick brush until he located a trail.
"I figured we'd just kind of have to hack our way through it until we found the trail. It turned out, there was never much of a trail at all. We just kept bushwhacking."
Without a trail to guide them, Bradford said, the young boys grew increasingly tired, two of them eventually falling ill. He decided to allow the boys to rest and pitched camp for an unexpected second night outdoors.
At home, Michelle Bradford, Peter's wife, said she wasn't overly concerned that the group was late returning home because her husband was experienced in the outdoors.
After the campers still hadn't returned on the morning of Halloween, Oct. 31, she reported them missing, informing search and rescue officials of where they had planned to hike.
By the time a helicopter had been dispatched to search for them, her husband was able to hike out of the canyon far enough to gain cellphone reception and call his wife to tell her everyone was OK.
The four were located by an AirMed helicopter, which picked them up, returning Bradford and the three boys to their waiting families.
Davis County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Commander Doug Shipley said Davis County hiking incidents occur most commonly in Adams Canyon, Baer Canyon, Farmington Canyon and the Mueller Park Trail.
Hiker-related incidents also occur frequently along Weber County's eastern bench, where convenient access points to mountain trails are prevalent, Toll said.
The Waterfall Canyon trail is one area in which hikers often fall victim to Mother Nature's unforgiving hand, he said.
While the canyon is frequented by all manner of hikers, it is those with less experience who typically find themselves in a situation where they require assistance.
"Most of those (Waterfall Canyon hiker incidences) are either injuries or dehydration," Toll said. "People will trip and fall or forget to bring food and water -- often going at the hottest time of the day."
Other Weber County hiking destinations where Toll said hiking incidents are prevalent include "rescue rock" -- a large rock east of 1100 North in Ogden that hikers will climb on top of and find themselves unable to descend on their own -- as well as the North Ogden Divide, the Beus Canyon Trail, the Skyline Trail and the Ben Lomond Peak Trail.
"Areas along the East Bench there tend to lure people into a false sense of safety," he said. "They think that, because they are close enough to see the city, they are safe from getting lost or injured."
Proper preparation can play an important role in remaining safe while hiking and in ensuring a smooth rescue should something go wrong, Shipley said.
In teaching people how to prepare for and stay safe on hikes, he said, "I hope that we can help them to help themselves."
Hikers should bring an excess of food and water with them on each hike, regardless of its distance, as well as extra clothing, matches and any other equipment that would be useful should they become lost or need to stay outdoors overnight, he said.
"It can make all the difference. How well they are prepared will determine how well they are able to weather the storm and wait for our help."
A functioning cellphone is another piece of equipment Shipley said no hiker should leave home without. It can not only be used by hikers to call for help, but rescue teams can also "ping" a cellphone's signal -- a call-tracing procedure in which the general location of a cellphone is derived -- to locate lost or stranded individuals.
Another problem that many hikers face, Toll said, is recognizing their personal hiking abilities and not pushing beyond them.
"A lot of times, people will start cutting down the mountain -- usually hoping for some kind of shortcut -- and end up dropping into a steep area where they get cliffed out and can't go up or down on their own."
To avoid getting into a situation where hikers are faced with obstacles greater than they can overcome, Shipley said it is important they stay on marked trails -- where a path through these obstacles is clearly marked.
Remaining on designated trails is also crucial in the event of hikers needing rescue, he said. If hikers have not strayed from the trail, they may be able to receive help from passers-by on the trail or, if needed, can be more easily located by search and rescue teams and given assistance.
Kathy Jo Pollock, a public affairs specialist for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said hikers should never hike alone and should inform someone of their hiking plans in case they need help and are unable to summon help on their own.
"People just need to be prepared when they go hiking. They need to make sure they let someone know their itinerary, what trailhead they are parked at, where they are going and then not deviate from that plan."
If this is done, help can be promptly summoned to the correct location if a hiker should go missing or become injured, she said.
Davis County search and rescue volunteers train two times per week to maintain their physical fitness and to perform "area familiarization" training, training in potential rescue areas, Shipley said.
Rescue teams also do frequent rope trainings to hone their skills in rope-anchor building and in the operation of rope-haul systems for rescues in some of the county's more "precarious areas," he said.
"If there is a bad fall and someone ends up in a dangerous area, our guys have got to be able to get in there just as quickly."
Toll said if hikers are sure to prepare for unexpected occurrences and take proper steps in planning, there is far less chance of them becoming lost or getting injured without the means to acquire help.
"We want to emphasize and to get out there that people need to make sure to bring the proper gear and always be prepared," he said.
"They need to always take food and water, make sure somebody knows where they are going and stress staying on the trails. That way, if we get the call, we'll know what trailhead to check and what route it is they planned to take."
Bradford said he was glad his group had the proper provisions to deal with an unexpected night outdoors and that everyone was able to safely await help.
"If we hadn't had sleeping bags and warm clothes, we might have gotten hypothermia. It was definitely cold enough."