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Forum Index -> Trail Talk -> Hiker Safety, tips, close calls, lessons learned
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Post Wed Dec 13, 2006 1:21 pm   
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What is the point of this post?


Wiki summmary last edited by ratherbhiking on Tue Jul 08, 2014 10:10 pm (this post can be edited by any member)
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Malachai Constant
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Post Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:30 pm   
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Avy watch for tomorrow

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"You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea." Lafcadio Hearn
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gb
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Post Mon Feb 21, 2011 10:20 pm   
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Many of the replies on this thread talk about equipment. As has been said by a few here safety equipment is a back up in case one screws up or encounters bad luck.

I think one important thing that I've learned is that the choice of an outing for a particular set of conditions and weather has a lot to do with safety. Pick the wrong destination especially for winter, x-country travel in alpine terrain, or climbing and you may be setting yourself up, even if you make no other mistakes.

For example, with respect to avalanche safety the choice of a trip and route and even micro-routefinding has to reflect expected conditions and observations that may run counter to initial expectations. Many people think avalanche safety in the backcountry is all about becoming an expert with respect to snowpack, using science as it were. Well there are two approaches, scientific, which works for avalanche control where avalanche results are expected, and pragmatic, where one has a rough (or better) idea of stability and then is selective in destination choice and route-finding as is appropriate for the conditions. The latter approach is more effective from a safety standpoint in the backcountry. The scientific approach is not only limited by lack of experience but also by the fact that the variables are just not well enough known and the snowpack in critical situations usually varies any way.

In xc travel in the warmer months weather is still a significant consideration in trip choices and routefinding decisions. Mushy snow and very hard snow can be dangerous. Bad weather can not only cause routefinding errors to be made but can create emotional pressures that make it more likely that a bad decision could be made. Three times in my lifetime I've moved my tent in the middle of the night because of bad lightning storms and twice I've just gone outside for two or three hours away from danger in the pouring rain because of lightning. Once on the NE ridge of Mt. Goode I spent 11 hours in a bivouac sack as nearly constant lightning remained centered on Black Peak just 4 miles away. We probably were in a very dangerous position on Goode on a horizontal dirt and grass band that would have absorbed water and probably conducted electricity quite well. But we lucked out because, although we had hail and rain, the lightning itself never moved over us. Yet all but one of these lightning storms was predictable. Our timing on Goode was poor. In the other instances I should have placed my tent in a less exposed position.

In climbing, the combination of poor rock on some peaks (especially volcanoes) and in particular melting snow makes rockfall very likely. In those conditions gully or couloir routes are pretty risky. Such routes are better before there is much melt out and when the snow is well frozen. But in general, the more time one spends in and near gullies and couloirs, the more likely it is that something bad will happen.

Self arrest on snow, like safety equipment is used when a mistake has already been made. Timing is one potential mistake on snow, another is the specifics of the route chosen. For instance, it is much easier to descend a steep slope directly down the fallline than to do a diagonal descent (because of body mechanics) on critical steep slopes, especially with difficult snow conditions like a liitle soft snow over hard. Not even crampons work well in those conditions since they tend to ball up. Backing straight down may be an option. Choice of route matters.

There are many more examples where planning a route and route choices that reflect the expected conditions can make a big difference.
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Elvis
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Post Tue Mar 22, 2011 12:17 am   
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Suggestion:  Learn how to use the bells and whistles on your gps.

For example:  Remember the fancy electronic compass that your gps has?  You know, it's one of the fancy features on your gps that you've never actually tried to use?

Go get your gps.  Turn it on.  Make sure it is locating adequate satellites to pinpoint your current location (or go do this somewhere where it can pinpoint your location).  Find the electronic compass.

Get your old fashioned no-batteries-required-and-much-lighter compass.

Make sure the N, S, E, W that shows on your gps electronic compass matches up with what your non-electronic compass says.

When I did this (just now), it was obvious that my gps compass was WAY out of whack.  N was at about 220 degrees.

A look in the user's manual taught me that sometimes you have to calibrate your electronic compass.  It's an easy process (at least it is on the Garmin 60CSx) and viola!  it works like a charm!

In fact, the manual suggests recalibrating it each time you install batteries, after moving more than 100 miles or experience a temperature change greater than 68 degrees F.  So... often.

Sure wish I knew that before my hike last Saturday.  Fortunately, we knew where we were and what direction we needed to go, but if it was anywhere else the results might have been a little more troublesome.  FWIW, we did also have a regular compass with us and realized the gps wasn't pointing the direction it should have been pointing (but we didn't know why or how to fix it).

Learn how to do it NOW, before you find yourself with a peakbagger in search of an off trail destination.

agree.gif

Happy Trails!

~E

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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rasbo
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Post Sun Apr 10, 2011 4:37 am   
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Elvis,you are spot on with that post...
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packgoat
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Post Thu May 05, 2011 6:25 pm   
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and to that lighter, add a 1/2 dozen bicycle rings, 2" long about 2 oz
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Dayhike Mike
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Post Thu May 05, 2011 7:31 pm   
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A half dozen? That's crazy talk right there.

Any more than one bicycle ring is overkill. And those things are expensive!


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"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
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HundsSolo
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Post Sat May 07, 2011 7:31 pm   
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Last weekend I up in Paradise having the usual fun in deep soft melting snow.   As I was leaving my home I saw on the shelf a small kit I have that has repair parts for my MSR snowshoes plus parts for my trekking poles.

Sure enough when I was heading back down as I placed one of my poles in the snow it sank all the way down almost making me lose my balance.  The snow basket had come off. Was I glad I had a spare one in the kit I almost left behind.

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If you don't Respect Mother Nature, Mother Nature won't respect you.
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Euler
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Post Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:17 pm   
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I've survived quite a few bad situations.. Many were preventable with greater knowledge.  Here is one.

Last summer on Church Mtn. in the North Cascades, my hiking companion decided to stay in the meadow while I went up to the summit.  So up I went.  The route was a little confusing, especially near the top, but I made it up to the summit fine.  There were very few people on the mountain that day - we saw maybe 3 the whole hike.    I had the summit to myself and spent maybe 15 minutes up there looking at the cool scenery.  Coming down off the summit, after just a few feet I took a route that seemed to be the trail, and which met up with the trail a bit lower, but in fact this was a 50-75 foot gully that was class 3 or harder.

When I started down the gully, it seemed a little odd, but not that bad, so I kept going, knowing that things were often harder on the descent than they may have seemed when going up.  It was pretty slow going though.  After a bit, I became very concerned as I was having a hard time moving at all.  It was no longer easy to go up or down.  A fall would have been bad news.  Maybe fatal, maybe not.

Now I had no good holds and did not feel like I could easily even stay where I was.  (Note: I had my light hikers on, as usual.  Not great for gripping.)  This place was beyond my abilities and there was nobody there to help.  For those that do not know: this is a really unpleasant feeling to have.  I do not like it at all.

I made the decision to turn around and go back up.  This wasn't an easy decision because turning around was going to be tricky.

Next, I took some deep breaths and calmed down, and revisited the decision - going up still seemed like the right thing.  I didn't wait very long because I was starting to get cold and didn't want to lose the ability to make good decisions, and, I wanted my muscles to be warm for what was going to follow.

By this time I had been in this short section for quite a while, maybe 10 minutes.  It seemed like it took another 5 minutes to turn around and go up the 20 feet or so that I had come down.

I felt like I was pretty fortunate.  Because I was calm I was able to confidently make a few maneuvers that got me up and out of there.  Then I walked a few feet past the gully and found the trail down - much better.  I was very lucky, as it started raining 5 minutes later.  The gully would have been even gnarlier in the rain.

A few things I learned:

(1) got reinforcement of the idea that when you are in a group, not only does it help you if you get into trouble, but it may sometimes help you avoid trouble in the first place.  Yes, being in a group can also cause you to get into trouble.

(2) it's worth spending a few minutes hunting around if you have any doubt about where the trail goes and going off trail seems like it might have bad consequences.

(3) descending is tougher than ascending, but not necessarily impossible - if you find it impossible, then stop and think about whether it'd be better to go back up and look for another way down (maybe the way you came up).

Andrew
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pnw.hiker
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Post Tue Jun 07, 2011 1:38 am   
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one close call...

After three days of desert hiking, alone and bushwhacking, I started to get sick - listless, snowy field of vision, couldn't think straight. Eventually, every time I took a sip of water I vomited, no matter how thirsty I was.

Thing was, I was taking it easy, not working too hard, comfortable with a nice breeze. Just sweating and drinking a lot. Finally figured out that if I licked the caked salt from my hat's sweat band I could then take a sip of water without throwing up. This went on for over a day. Very scary.

On the way home, MacDonalds french fries with extra salt fixed me right up.
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Dave Workman
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Post Sat Aug 20, 2011 9:18 am   
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pnw.hiker wrote:
one close call...

After three days of desert hiking, alone and bushwhacking, I started to get sick - listless, snowy field of vision, couldn't think straight. Eventually, every time I took a sip of water I vomited, no matter how thirsty I was.

Thing was, I was taking it easy, not working too hard, comfortable with a nice breeze. Just sweating and drinking a lot. Finally figured out that if I licked the caked salt from my hat's sweat band I could then take a sip of water without throwing up. This went on for over a day. Very scary.

On the way home, MacDonalds french fries with extra salt fixed me right up.

Oh, yeah...
fast food with grease and salt...the Elixir of life.

--------------
"The essential American soul is harsh, isolate, stoic, and a killer." - D.H. Lawrence
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ddogg7864
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Post Fri Aug 26, 2011 2:01 pm   
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up.gif  x2
Dave Workman wrote:
Oh, yeah...
fast food with grease and salt...the Elixir of life.



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tigermn
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Post Fri Aug 26, 2011 4:44 pm   
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Dave Workman wrote:
Oh, yeah...
fast food with grease and salt...the Elixir of life.

Maybe not in general but I was on a 165+ mile bike ride and got about halfway in (thus about 80 something miles from home). My usual fare of power bars and such which was usually fine wasn't cutting it. I was bordering on the bonks. I found a gas station/mini mart somewhere on the west side of the sound which had some pizza slices that looked like they had been there all day under the heat lamp. How could bad pizza taste so good but it almost instantly perked me up and I actually enjoyed the ride home.

Never made a habit of it and it may not make any sense but them were the facts that day.

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onemoremile
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Post Fri Aug 26, 2011 8:55 pm   
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You can go to a fast food place and get some of those little packets of salt.  Then when hiking on hot days and sweating a lot, just eat a packet of salt every now and then while consuming all that water.

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ďArbolist?  Look up the word. I donít know, maybe I made it up. Anyway, itís an arbo-tree-ist, somebody who knows about trees.Ē  G.W. Bush
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tigermn
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Post Fri Aug 26, 2011 9:17 pm   
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onemoremile wrote:
Then when hiking on hot days and sweating a lot,


Haven't had to worry about that too much this "summer"...  lol.gif

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brianle
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Post Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:06 pm   
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One lesson I learned at the start of a long trip this year in June was that the safety rules we learn in backpacking classes or from books or the like can be a bit simplistic; in the real world, often it's about trade-offs rather than one approach or another being universally correct.

The morning of day two of our journey, my hiking partner and I had crossed a quite difficult, high creek crossing the morning before only to find that we had to cross it again.   Side note: a more careful look at the map might have suggested bushwhacking (quite a ways though) to avoid the double crossing.

But being in between, having now to cross one way or the other, we had to go for it.  I crossed first, it was tough, but I made it.  My hiking partner, however, was literally swept off his feet and was rapidly floating downstream.   We had crossed just above where a bridge is usually in place in Glacier National Park, but we were there early enough that the bridge planking hadn't been put in yet.  The bridge cables were far enough apart that we had deemed it safer to ford than to try to walk on one or (doing the splits) both of the cables.

Fortunately for my friend, there was a sort of wire hanging off of one of the cables, he managed to grab this, I went hand-over-hand along a bridge cable to help pull him out, and despite being now both wet and with snow all around, we were fine after we had walked enough to warm back up.   Well, he wasn't so much, turned out he pulled something in his chest and ultimately got off trail 600 or so miles later as he had a hard time taking deep breaths (this is one tough guy).

Okay, sorry for the long backdrop, but the lesson learned for me here was when my friend told me he was glad that he had kept his waist belt on and his chest strap buckled on his pack: because for the fairly short distance he sailed down the creek, this actually kept him floating higher and allowed him to grab that trailing wire.  We both shuddered to think what might have become of him had he failed to grab (and then to hold on) to it.

I'm not saying that therefore people should always keep their packs strapped tight when crossing creeks.  I will say, however, that I tend to do this more often than not, as balanced against the chance of more easily getting out of the pack should I fall and float downstream is the benefit of being less likely to slip and fall in the first place if I don't have my pack hanging loose off my back and shifting back and forth as I cross.  This particular example of my friend's save just reinforces for me how situational, how context sensitive various "always do this" or "never do that" bits of advice really are.

I guess the most similar trade-off I can think of is using an ice axe vs. trekking poles --- the former helps save your butt if you slip, but with the latter you might be less likely to slip in the first place.  For the first few hundred miles of this particular trip I solved that one by using a Black Diamond Whippet --- that way my trekking poles and my self-arrest pick were always both ready to hand.  And in fact I did self arrest with it once on the trip, worked fine (and fortunately I never had any real need to self-belay or chop steps).

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