Friday, October 9, 2009

How Not to Be an Idiot While Hiking

I'm a big fan of Backpacker magazine's blogs because they're topical, timely and give you news about the Great Outdoors that is hard to find elsewhere on the web. Steve Howe's recent post Smarten Up had me yelling "Yes, yes!" as I read it. His outdoor-savvy post offers a "checklist of 8 steps that would prevent most searches, rescues and deaths in the woods." My favorite recommendation might be "Take some freakin' gear." How many times have I seen naive folks head out for a long-distance hike on a hot summer day with oh, 12 ounces of water, no sunscreen and flip-flops without any traction?

I'd just like to add two more items to Steve Howes' list, to round it out as a Top Ten list of ways to smarten up:
  • Let someone know where you're going, and when you plan to be back. We all know the story of Aron Ralston and other unlucky hikers who might've had a less terrifying experience if they'd let someone know about their plans. After all, how much time does it take to send a friend a text message with your planned hiking route and ETA back at the trailhead? (Or when cell-phone reception fails, rely on that quaintly retro piece of technology, a pay phone.)
  • Be aware of flash floods, and don't cross streams that aren't safe. Maybe I'm saying this because I often hike in the Southwest deserts, Sierra Nevada mountains and Hawaii, all places where flash floods and/or tricky stream crossings are a real concern for hikers. But when you're hiking, you need to know the weather report and resist the temptation to cross streams that are rushing too quickly or flowing too high to be truly safe. Especially when conditions could be even worse later in the day or whenever you may be retracing your steps. Remember what happened to Chris McCandless, as retold by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.
Stay tuned for my next posting, about why irresponsible hikers shouldn't be rewarded with a $5 million dollar settlement from the National Park Service. That recently happened here on Maui, where I'm currently researching a new hiking guide. And yes, I'm doing it without crossing any dangerously high streams in flash-flood warning zones. And I always let someone know where I'm going.

Photo: Sequoia National Park (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

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