Sep 13, 2005 at 3:21 pm #1216788
As the older I get, the less friends that I have to backpack with. There are still many areas that I really would love to visit in the Sierras but without partners it is kind of tough. This year 3 different solo hikers have come up missing in Yosemite; two have died, while the other (which was this week) walked out with a sprained ankle after being reported late to his job. How do the rest of you view hiking solo? I am thinking about breaking from the pack and trying my hand at doing solo journies to fill my time in the backcountry. Safe or sane?Sep 13, 2005 at 4:12 pm #1341604
Ken, there is an additional risk to going solo. If you fall off a cliff, get struck by lightning, or have a heart attack, there is no one there to give you a hand. Having said that, most of my trips in the past twenty or so years have been solo. I find that I feel a much greater connection to the natural world when I go alone. If you decide to travel solo, be extra careful when doing things like crossing streams and talus fields. And, of course, leave a detailed plan with someone who cares about you.Sep 13, 2005 at 4:37 pm #1341605
Solo hiking is fantastic. I can’t get enough of it. I like hiking with my wife almost as much, but a few days alone on the trail really heals the mind. Yes, it’s riskier than hiking with a partner. But still not as risky as riding a motorcycle, for example.Sep 13, 2005 at 5:23 pm #1341609
thanks for the comments guys. I have thought long and hard on this issue. For one, I like day hiking by myself. If I could lend this to going on multi day hikes in The Sierras then that would be great. I agree that it can be a unique experience being in the backcountry alone. I agree that a detailed itenirary is a must. If only I could bring my wife on trips then the need for solo would not be an issue. Unfortunately hiking 3000 ft elevation gain over a pass is not what she considers fun. Also, I am a social person that loves company so the interaction part would be tough to deal with. Still, I do think that it would be a great experience!!Sep 13, 2005 at 5:25 pm #1341610
David LewisBPL Member
@davidlewisLocale: Nova Scotia, Canada
I don’t know this for certain… but I’m just guessing (pure guess) that statistically speaking, the car drive to the trailhead is probably more dangerous than a solo on-trail hike. Now if you’re rock climbing or canyoneering or whatever… that probably changes.Sep 13, 2005 at 5:48 pm #1341611
Ken, you make a good point about the psychological aspect of going alone. A friend planned a solo week-long trip in the Wemimuche Wilderness based on my enthusiastic recommendation of solo travel. She turned around after two days, being lonely and scared. I learned that everyone is different and that only some personality types enjoy long periods of time alone. It’s probably best to try soloing on a quick overnighter. You may really like it or else find that it’s just not for you.Sep 13, 2005 at 5:54 pm #1341612
David, that’s exactly the argument I make to my wife. It would be great if someone who knows the statistics could chime in here.Sep 13, 2005 at 6:13 pm #1341613
Oh yeah a overnighter would be the ticket. I am actually planning on doing a 17 mile loop on familiar trails (Emmigrant Wilderness) just to see how I respond. My idea is to “hike to camp” rather than “camp to hike” meaning that most of my time would be hiking. Good debate.Sep 13, 2005 at 8:04 pm #1341616
I’ve also wondered about the statistical probability of staying home and cracking your head on the coffee table by falling off the sofa while reaching for another potato chip.Sep 13, 2005 at 8:56 pm #1341617
probably pretty good especially in my household……doh!!Sep 13, 2005 at 10:15 pm #1341621
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
most of mine is done alone. however, these are shorter treks (overnights & 3day/2night max) and in areas that i know well. also, there are many (not all) places out here, where you can actually get cellular service, so there is a way to call for help if you’re conscious. that and a GPS (assuming you can get a decent satellite fix due to tree cover) is all that one needs for a speedy rescue here. the geographical area is rather small in many cases (like i kid people from larger states – “Montana, what part of Connecticut is that in?” – you get the point i’m sure). so, if you ever get lost, you just walk – eventually you’ll hit a road if not a farm, a house or little town. it’s certainly not like that in many other States. now you do encounter more people – which can be either good or bad, depending upon the people you encounter. to date, haven’t encountered any dangerous ones. however, having said that, things have sure changed over the last 25+yrs, meaning that the type of people, in some cases, that you meet out here in the woods are not someone you might want to share an AT shelter with – hence my preference (among other reasons) for stealth camping.
in short, i think each situation is different.
BTW, Ken, how did the two solo hikers die? dehydration? a fall? foul play? bear? (being eaten after dying doesn’t count).Sep 14, 2005 at 11:26 am #1341650
two hikers have parished in Yosemite this year. The Yosemite news site has not divulged how they died. Both were early season June to July. The snowmelt and runoff was extremely dangerouse this year due to higher than normanl snowfall. Possible creak crossing drowning? Two hikers in a two month period (both solo) is kind of rare.Sep 14, 2005 at 1:13 pm #1341658
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
thanks Ken.Sep 17, 2005 at 9:05 am #1341729
Bob BankheadBPL Member
@wandering_bobLocale: Oregon, USA
My preferred style; have done it for years.
However, I have to know the limits of my skills and be ready to turn around and go back when faced with any situation where the risk is greater than the potential gain. Risks – not stretches to one’s skills – that I might take in company with others I will not take when alone.
Ego must be firmly controlled, because as has already been stated, help can be a long time coming – if at all – when you’re alone. I spent one terrified afternoon all alone on a glacier telling myself repeatedly “I didn’t come out here to die”. The mountain heard me and let me live. Lesson learned! Discretion is the better part of valor.
The trail or mountain isn’t going anywhere. I can always come back another time and try again.
Wandering BobSep 17, 2005 at 12:33 pm #1341734
Bob, good insight. I too have thought that if or when I do hike solo, that what you said about limitations and ego and keeping both in check. Even in groups I tend to error on the cautious.Sep 18, 2005 at 9:11 am #1341748
Long-time solo guy here. A few ideas:
1) Find out if you tolerate and enjoy solitude. Try a few days alone in a low-risk environment.
2) Decide what level of risk you are willing to assume to do the things you want to do. Are you willing to die in the woods? Can your loved ones handle that? Do they respect your choice? The family issue is really hard for some folks to work out. Or maybe it doesn’t matter to you.
I know this means understanding the relative risk of hiking solo against driving to work every day. Human beans are incompetent in assessning risk, and that goes even for policy wonks. Don’t expect some factual statistic to give you an answer. Is air travel really safer than driving? By miles, yes, it is; by time spent in the air versus driving, no, it is not. Does that make any difference? It’s up to you.
3)Assess your general risks and capacities: a)What do your recent physicals show? How do you honestly feel? Did you tell your doc that your heart that sometimes races? What about that pain you call indigestion? b) What are your physical limts? Do you have a high tolerance for pain? Do you stay calm when you are hurt? Can you self-rescue? These are things you have to answer for yourself with brutal honesty. I don’t mean can you gnaw your arm off if trapped under a boulder, but more realistically, can you keep yourself alive with a broken femur until someone comes along?
A corollary to this is: will your family doc give you serious pain killers for your first-aid kit? They can keep you from going into shock and let you cope with the tasks you need to perform if you are injured. A few Percoset or Demerol can make all the difference.
4) Assess the risks inherent to every particular trek you consider undertaking in light of your capacities — rejecting any tendency to set up a macho competition inside your head. Remember, if you are alone, there is no one around to dis you for being a chicken. (The corollary is, there is no one to hear you scream.) Bob’s advice about ego is wise.
Bob mentioned stealth camping. Wise advice. My heirarchy of responses for dealing with the occastional nasty, dangerous folks I have encountered is don’t be noticed, then fast feet (run away), fast thinking, and fast talking.
5) Get *trained* in wilderness medicine (as opposed to reading about it.) Then you can keep a minor problem from becoming serious and deal with serious injuries/illness so as to suffer fewer lasting effects.
*Solo resume’ (not a brag, just to let you know that I have a little experience in this): by canoe up the Rio Grande, from the Gulf, by bicycle around the perimeter of the U.S., by foot on the AT (partly solo), the Big Bend, the Wiminuche, Pecos, Gila, Ouachita, numerous less august trails – over 40 years. Serious injuries: zero. Serious illness: zero. Treks terminated due to illness or injury: zero.Sep 18, 2005 at 10:28 am #1341752
David LewisBPL Member
@davidlewisLocale: Nova Scotia, Canada
“by time spent in the air versus driving, no, it is not. Does that make any difference? It’s up to you.”
Is that really true? Isn’t the figure for average car fatalities per year up around 50,000 or so while commercial airline fatalties are probably in the low hundreds? Not that it matters. When it comes to things like this, perception is more important to our loved ones than reality. Which is perfectly understandable.Sep 19, 2005 at 2:56 pm #1341796
Yeah, I read that in one of those ‘it ain’t the way you think’ books about statistics. I dunno. The point is, folks are not good at assessning risk, and even the statistical wonks who are supposed to get it right are mostly guessing. I agree with Mark Twain, “There’s liars, there’s damned liars, and then there’s statistics.’Sep 19, 2005 at 4:15 pm #1341799
thanks for the reply Vick. Makes a lot of sense. I have the luxury of having a Big Basin State Park within an hours drive for me so I think that will be my first test. I have been doing the lightweight thing now for two years and I am becoming real interested in try uber-lite, and this might be a way to do it…close to home.Sep 19, 2005 at 4:31 pm #1341800
Like you, I would like to know, for example, if the oft-made claim is true; ‘it is safer on the trail than living in even a small town.’ Given that the greatest danger is almost always people, that pseudo-fact may be true. But who knows? I figure it’s almost nearly but not quite hardly possible for a clever statistician to put dern near anything over on sophisticated skeptics, and a lead pipe cinch to ‘prove’ anything to most of the rest of us. So there. You want to try solo. Good. Maybe you will like it. If so, enjoy. If not, then you will have learned something useful. It’s a no lose deal.Sep 20, 2005 at 7:29 am #1341825
@foodLocale: Colorado Rockies
I want to be the guy you pay to hike solo if you are going to do a scientific study.Sep 20, 2005 at 2:25 pm #1341840
Vick I agree. Won’t know til I try. Which I will do once my next two trips are completed in the next month. Thanks all for such great insight, I appreciate it!!!Oct 14, 2005 at 12:18 pm #1342905
@pyeyoLocale: pacific northwest
I don’t know if you remember the climber who got pinned and had to hack of his appendage a little while back to save himself…we try these things and try to balance the risks and do the best we can. Given the choice of not going or going solo, I’ll pick going. Everything we do in life sooner or later bumps up against our comfort zone. I know couples who cannot go out to eat if they don’t sit in the same booth at that favorite restaurant, try a few benign trips locally and you’ll know pretty quick. I also have one friend who now packs a satellite phone.Oct 14, 2005 at 12:22 pm #1342906
@naturephoto1Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
I think that you are talking about Aaron Ralston, who wrote Between a Rock and a Hard Place about his experience in Canyonlands.
RichOct 21, 2005 at 4:04 pm #1343418
Tom KirchnerBPL Member
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Like yourself, I have found that as I age I am finding fewer and fewer partners to backpack with and am faced with the choice of not going or going solo. I have chosen the latter. I have found it to be a deeply satisfying way to be in the Sierra. Like a couple of the posters above, I have found myself in a state of super alertness that translates into instinctive caution in potentially dicey situations. After I became used to this, a lot of my initial reservations about going solo, especially off trail, just sort of evaporated and everything just seems to flow. But I suspect each individual is different in that regard. That said, when I did a 9 day solo route in Sequoia NP this September that involved 3 days off trail, I took a personal locator beacon, mainly to put my wife’s mind at ease. You might keep that in mind if the peace of mind of “those left behind” is an issue. They can be rented for about $60/week and will fix your position within about 50 meters and transmit back to a national rescue dispatch center within minutes. They then dispatch the nearest search and rescue team to extract you. This assumes your location has a clear line to the satellites required to do the triangulation necessary to fix your position. Best of luck with it.
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