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.