Saturday, July 29, 2017

"Never hike alone"

As I write this, three hikers are missing on the Pacific Crest Trail. One hasn't been heard from since April, which brings up fearful thoughts of snowy Fuller Ridge. The other never picked up her resupply package north of Yosemite and was last seen July 17th.  Last week another hiker was found submerged in a dangerous creek crossing. She didn't make it. The last disappeared in October and has never been found.

The chorus has begun again, saying that people should not hike alone. It's true that if the hiker who drowned had waited for others to help her cross, the outcome would have been very different. But we all know of friends who have died in the mountains, their companions by their side. The truth is that the wilderness is never going to be completely safe.

I've hiked a lot with other people lately, and I get it. It's nice to have someone else to consult when the trail disappears in snow or when you have to balance precariously on a log at a creek crossing. When you are on the struggle bus going up a hill (or in my case, downhill) it's good to have someone else to hear you whine. Decisions--where to camp, should we get water here, should we turn back; all of those are good to share.

And let's be honest--hiking while female brings its own dangers. I have been fortunate that I have only met a couple of sketchy people in the woods, but it's something that men will never really get.

I once knew a man who really wanted to go on a cruise, but he put it off, saying that he wouldn't go until he had a girlfriend to go with him. In the decades since, he has yet to acquire said girlfriend, so he has stayed home. I feel that way about hiking solo. If I wait for someone to go with, I won't go. Going is more important.

There are ways to stay safe. You have to be willing to turn around. You have to admit when something is too hard, or too dangerous. You have to pay attention to all of the little things that can add up to something that you can't come back from. And you have to know that, despite all this, something can go wrong. It can go wrong even if you have an army with you. That's just the way the wilderness works.

Trail sisters and brothers, I hope you are all found safe.



15 comments:

  1. First of all, I hadn't heard of all the missing hikers! Yikes!

    Secondly, good on you for taking chances and challenging the fear mongering. We all know how smart you hike, so I am never worried for you. Mistakes and mishaps can happen to the best of us, even when in bigger groups. The bottom line is the most essential piece of gear is what is between your ears ...

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    1. Agree, in my 20s I took many more risks than I do now with much less technology! Someone once told me that I write about turning around and that instead I should go out of my comfort zone. I had to laugh...I am out of it nearly every time I go out. But I do have boundaries that I don't cross.

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  2. Have you read the story about CDT hiker Otter's disappearance last year? Beautiful and sad ... and an example of how it's often the most experienced people who find themselves in fatal peril.
    http://karlfmoffatt.blogspot.com/2016/12/otter-olshansky-lonely-death-on-new.html

    I'm solo frequently but I nearly always have a Delorme InReach with me, even on short outings near home, where cell reception isn't reliable. The technology may fail or I may never have a chance to send out a message, but it's at least some insurance against a fate like Otter's.

    Disappearance has been closer to the front of my mind since I was caught in the avalanche in Juneau in March. Only a handful of people even knew I was in Juneau at the time, and I'd only sent a vague message to Beat in Colorado that I had a layover and was going hiking from the airport. If I'd been buried, it probably would have been at least a day before I was even reported missing, possibly many more days before I was found.

    If I hadn't been alone, would I have made different decisions? Possibly. Still, when you consider many risky outdoor situations — avalanche, thunderstorms, blizzards, raging river crossings ... many times the scenario is multiple people in danger, rather than just one.

    Good things to consider, though.

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    1. Thanks for the link. I'd been following the Otter story but never saw it described in such detail. So mysterious, I can't understand why he didn't ski out after making the skis and realizing nobody was coming.

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    2. My theory ... obviously not knowing any more than was described in that article ... is that he was already weakened by the frostbite that probably happened early. It's like the Chris McCandless story ... why didn't he explore further, or walk down-river toward the highway? Such things we'll never know.

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  3. Well said. Exactly my thoughts! I'd rather die living than live dying. My goal is to stay safe, stay found, but indeed accidents happen whether solo or in a group.

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    1. Agree. The two young women in separate incidents who drowned crossing rivers in Yosemite are definitely tragedies. However, it doesn't mean a blanket statement of thou shalt never hike solo.

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  4. 3 women this pct season. The 2 recent ladies found in the river, another slid down an ice fall descending a mountain after she turned back without her fellow hikers, I believe sar found her .25mi off trail days later. And a missing Irish hiker since April yet to be found. The one that really tugs at my heart is Kris Fowler aka Sherpa missing since Oct 2016 pct. Too many hikers gone to soon, so sad.

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    1. Oh right, I think the one who fell on Mount Whitney was not a PCT hiker but still in the area and still worth noting. It's been a hard year. And the Sherpa story is so sad and mysterious. I hope he is found soon.

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  5. I'm with you. If it's going solo or not going, I'll always choose solo. You can't live life in a bubble.

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    1. So true. I would miss out on so much.

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  6. I know a woman whose husband had a heart attack and died while they were hiking the PCT together (I am pretty sure it was the PCT). At least they were together and doing what they loved. Life is short. Do what you love.

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    1. Agree, I always have a hard time with "at least she was doing what she loved"...people would still choose not to be gone, whether they fall hiking or are sitting at their desk. But absolutely I agree that within the boundaries you have, you need to just take the trip, do the hike, whatever. It is easy to say that you are irreplaceable at work, there's a meeting, or you'll do it next year. Money and time are always going to be issues, but I try to squeeze in as much as I can. Because, who knows.

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  7. Matt and I went on a backpacking trip and spent some time talking about this sort of thing after a couple asked us whether they should attempt an off-trail ridge scramble we did. I got to a super sketchy spot that required not only all four limbs in the dirt, but pulling myself up by my arms (which I shouldn't and couldn't do safely) and had to turn back. It's all about knowing where your own personal limits are and whether you're willing to accept the risk involved. For me and the summit that day, it wasn't, but maybe it would be for the couple asking our advice?

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  8. There are many time if I didn't go hiking/skiing/whatever by myself, I would never to that activity. But I'm always "trusting my gut" as to what I do. Many times my motto is "When in doubt, DON'T." Evelyn T.

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