Hikers Rescued on the West Bluff

Hikers Rescued on the West Bluff

“Hello, please, we’re stuck out here!” This message was sent last evening from an emergency call box on Devil’s Lake State Park’s West Bluff.  Luckily, the hikers were located and are now safe.

Local Facebook Page, “Baraboo Scanner” recorded an emergency call last evening sent from the call box on the West Bluff Trail near the Prospect Point overlook. The call went out over the park’s radio channel. According to news reports this morning, the hikers had spent more than 3 hours on the trails, much of it after dark. They reportedly used their cellphones to light their way, until their batteries died. Finding the call box, they then called for help around 8pm. Baraboo Scanner reports that the hikers were reached just after 9pm. Suffice to say, it was brutally cold with wind chills below zero.

Read More
Hikers rescued after citizen reports Devil’s Lake call box activation – Madison.com


Baraboo Scanner’s recording of calls for help and response. (FaceBook)


O.K.  I don’t know every detail and I don’t want to beat up on the poor folks who were “stuck”.  However, this certainly looks like a case of hikers taking their safety for granted in a surprisingly dangerous park, while taking on the extra risks of sub-zero temps and darkness. To be caught out with nothing but a cellphone flashlight sounds bad, but maybe I’m missing some facts.

Listen, if you’re going challenge yourself, (And to be clear, hiking icy bluff trails, in the dark, in sub-zero temps is risky behavior!) know where you are and where’ll you’ll be when the sun goes down. Have a paper map and understand it. Have a flashlight or headlamps. Dress properly. Wear cleats or snowshoes in winter. Carry food & water. Just be prepared.

This time of year, there is no one out there to help you. Even when there is off-season staff on hand, it’s one dude in a building somewhere. It’s not a rescue team! Real help has to be called in from town, with all the delays that implies. If you find one of the two call boxes, you’ll still wait an hour or more for help to arrive as this report states. If you don’t find a call box, you’re in the hands of the gods. Cellphones may or may not work in the hills. Oh, and if you call out a whole rescue team due to your own poor judgement…. It’s expensive.

Lastly, I can speak from experience on this a bit. As someone who once used to dispatch at the park, as a former EMT with some wilderness experience, AND someone who has hiked the bluffs in all seasons, all weather, day and night, I can tell you that with experience comes healthy respect. One slip can change everything. I don’t take my own safety for granted. I don’t expect others to rescue me unless I can’t drag myself out. It’s a risk I take with my eyes wide open.

In the end, I’m glad these folks got off the bluff safely. Lessons learned.

A Safe Alternative!

Don’t want to deal with the risks? Watch the video’s we’ve made on the bluffs in a snowstorm from the warmth of your living room!

Be safe out there!


Disclaimer: And of course, my crazy opinions are my own and often caused by too many hours of isolation in the deep dark woods. My posts certainly don’t represent the opinions of the Wisconsin DNR or any other group, organization or book club.

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  1. Joseph Salemi

    Great post Derrick. Devils lake is serious even in summer and in winter, it’s dangerous.
    Bring a bug out pack with water, some food items, flash light. YouTube Has many examples or google it.
    Make sure cell phones are charged. Make sure they work- my phone is spotty at best everywhere in the Baraboo Hills from Casade Mountain and west beyond Sauk and down river. I do not depend on it.
    The trail map shows the bluff trails are less than two miles-No Problem, I’ll be done in an hour. WRONG!!! these trails are steep on the way up and on the down no matter which way you go. And note that the “flat” at the top is uneven and still sloped.
    All of this takes people by surprise and twisted ankles or knees, fatigue and discouragement are common on the bluffs and in the back. The cold compounds the issue. And don’t forget that it gets dark early in winter.
    Sure it’s a park but it is wild and physically challenging even if you think that you are “in shape”.
    Be careful.

  2. Mary Bivens

    The west bluff trails are a surprise if you’ve never been on them. My spouse and I (we’re in our 70’s) hiked them for the first time last October late in the day after I was already getting tired and low on water. I hadn’t realized the sunset would come so early. But anyone should see the writing on the wall in the harsh winter conditions of January.

  3. Bill

    Yep, it can be dangerous. I hike alone a lot in late afternoon and after dark.

    Icy trails, dark, disorientation, cold; For God’s sake, take a LED flashlight along. They weigh nothing. A headlamp is better. or both.

    Go with someone.

    Have a plan, someone that knows where you’ve gone and when you’re expected back.

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