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A sobering reminder to be prepared when venturing into the backcountry, even if only for a day hike

5:01 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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A sad story, but completely preventable.

This Dad and two sons died over the weekend, day hiking a part of the Ozark Trail. They were not prepared for the incoming weather or the events that led to them having to stay the night out there.

Always carry your 10 essentials at a bare minimum, you never know when a simple day hike will turn into something more. People may laugh at you or mock you for carrying a pack full of gear on a day hike in some places, but at least you and your loved ones will live to see another day.

Very sad. Be safe out there.

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/illinois/anniversary-gift-turns-into-fatal-hike-for-father-two-sons/article_3083ef0f-ed8c-562a-ac13-32875df04085.html

5:56 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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I was doing a dayhike once with a woman who had her full 80 l. Osprey with her. It wasn't full, but I teased her about being over-prepared.

She worked as a forester, she told me, and described how her and and her crew got lost one night on a cutblock. As chief, she had all the safety gear, and she described how they survived until morning only because they had enough emergency equipment to stay alive. 

A good lesson for me, and I haven't worried about being teased for carrying a complete kit since that time. I've rarely very much out of it, but when I have, like a first aid kit, I've been glad I had it.

6:22 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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Something similar to this happened on the Routeburn track in NZ years ago-as I recall, a father and two kids were day hiking away from one of the huts and the weather turned bad. Dad went back down the track to get additional clothing, but the kids died from exposure before he got back.

The mountain weather in NZ is often unstable, so checking the forecast daily is really important. Some of the mountain huts have radios to check in with the rangers and get the weather forecast.

This sounds from afar like a failure to check the weather, along with being unprepared.

A guy hiking with friends here in the local mountains on Saturday got separated from them and spent the night in temps down into the 30's with little on. He survived and was found, but he was 28 and relatively fit. Again, someone out with no gear at all-

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/01/hiker-rescued-from-forest-after-26-hours-in-the-cold.html

6:50 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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That is really sad. The father must have been in agony watching his sons slip away.

8:47 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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Not intending to place any blame, but I think people really underestimate how dangerous cold weather can be. Just a couple of weeks ago, a college student visiting Tahoe froze to death while walking back from a concert to her hotel. She could have ridden a shuttle bus, but apparently didn't want to wait for it. Not entirely sure what happened; they found her in a snowbank; she had taken off her jacket, a sign of severe hypothermia. Alcohol might have been a factor in her getting lost, according to what I read online.

9:03 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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Tom, I think as a society we are so far removed from the force of weather that even the most basic, almost instinctual, methods of survival that everyone two hundred years ago took for granted are lost to us now.

10:11 a.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I just attended a winter survival class over the weekend. One of the first things I was taught..other than tell someone where you are going and when you'll return was to check the weather reports. I also learned about winter shelter, pack-readiness and an interesting tip was to use pine boughs in your jacket for insulation and to put your feet inside your pack to help keep them warm.

I am also struck by the lines the article mentioned above where the mom said they were experienced hikers and have hunkered down before in similar weather conditions. I gather they did not learn a lesson. The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue volunteer, who taught the winter survival class was telling of previous rescues and he talked of the hunter and his 14 year old nephew who were stranded/lost in Bear Valley a while back. The boy died from hypothermia...and this was NOT the first time rescue had to help the adult hunter. Bad, very bad!

I always carry my Camelback Aventura, stuffed to the gills,on day hikes. Along with the 'kitchen sink', I carry extra high calorie snacks, bic lighter, extra warm gloves and hat, a weatherproof layer, contractor grade trash bag and a space blanket...oh, and a little Sawyer.

10:37 a.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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Tragic.  I hate reading stories like this.   

I used to guide teenagers on hikes, so I have long assumed that kids I hike with will forget something and not be prepared.  Until a few summers ago, I received more than my share of grief from my family about carrying good-sized (45 L) backpacks on day hikes.  That dialed back significantly after a hike in the Tetons when the weather quickly went from clear and cool to cold, driving rain, hail, and spectacular lightning.  As I pulled their rain shells, hats, and gloves out, and handed my too-big extra baselayer to my chilly seven year-old, they figured out why I carry all that stuff.  

For those of you with young kids (or who used to have young kids), perhaps you have seen good habits paid forward.  When my teenaged son knew he was going to hike Katahdin last summer, he remembered the Tetons and asked me in advance what he should bring. 

further to the comment above, a lot of frameless alpine packs have a doubled-over piece of closed cell foam as a back pad, removable so you can use as a short sit or sleep pad in case you get stuck.  and the larger packs can serve as a half-bivy in a pinch. 

 

12:49 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I am often laughed at when I show up for a day hike with a pack full of stuff. Even for a couple of hours, as a couple of hours can turn into a full day or more.

Always carry the 10 essentials. As well, I carry not just enough gear for myself, but a smattering of gear that I can let someone else use...extra gloves, wool hat, a second space blanket. In these days of going ultralight and trimming weight, sometimes important items are jettisoned. On a summer hike, this may not seem too dangerous, but winter is entirely a different story.

2:51 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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very sad!

2:56 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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What?  Didn't his cell phone have an app for hypothermia? 

I think technology has shifted our behaviors, to the point we no longer plan ahead, but just wing everything, assuming whatever we need can be acquired along the way, utilizing gee wiz technology and smart phones.  No one looks up trip directions or weather forecasts anymore, they just hop in the car and Google the information while enroute.  This mindset is beginning to affect widespread aspects of daily life, giving us the false perception our smart phones can replace the need for planning and anticipating contingencies.

Unfortunately there will be more incidents like this, due to a society that has become impulsive, accustomed to on-demand, instant, solutions to our every whim.  And if not because we believe technology can instantly resolve any and all manner of problems, then because we have become reliant on these devices as an alternative form of intelligence, under the belief they are substitutes for good old fashioned learning and wisdom (i.e. using our brains). 

Ed

3:27 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I fail to see how you can say this was because of technology... whether it be hiking in the cold or driving to work on a rainy day. We've ALL done something at some point that could have ended badly. true enough, the dad could have brought more gear but i can't say that this was because of technology. i've always been a spur of the moment kind of guy and i'm sure there are many more like me. maybe thats what this was, we'll probably never know.

 

at this point i'm just rambling on but i read your post and think of an old timer whos not happy that technolgy is very much a  part of all of us.

4:24 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I think Ed's message is that we can depend upon technology to get us out of situations and when the technology - in this case a cellphone and a flashlight - fails, we do not have the background to think our way out of the crisis. This is basic WWMD (What would MacGyver do); but a MacGyver without a Swiss Army Knife and duct tape.

Common sense is not very common and self-reliance has been replaced by experts for everything. Platitudes, of course, but sadly true.

A few years ago we read of a Girl Scout Troop who were on a hike, when one of the girls sprained her ankle. It was an hour and a half hike back to the trailhead. The scout leader - an adult - sent two of the girls back to get a SAR unit to come for the injured girl. (?????) Common sense would say that you have 13 girl scouts and only one injured. Wouldn't it be part of their training to bandage the ankle and then rig a litter or travois from local wood and two shirts? If not a litter, a two person carry, or a crutch and an assistant. The opportunities to learn new skills are endless; instead they wasted three hours summoning some SAR personnel to carry her out.

BTW, I am not criticizing the father or the sons who died. I am just agreeing with Ed's post.

4:43 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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omatty said:

I fail to see how you can say this was because of technology... whether it be hiking in the cold or driving to work on a rainy day. We've ALL done something at some point that could have ended badly. true enough, the dad could have brought more gear but i can't say that this was because of technology. i've always been a spur of the moment kind of guy and i'm sure there are many more like me. maybe thats what this was, we'll probably never know.

 

at this point i'm just rambling on but i read your post and think of an old timer whos not happy that technolgy is very much a  part of all of us.

 

Ok you got me!  I am the biggest anti technophobe around.  Really, I do own that.  I don’t even trust solar power to run my sun dial; it is powered by steam.  But that doesn’t disqualify my observations.  I appreciate technology and use it appropriately, such as looking up the NOAA web site BEFORE I SET OUT on a hike.  And I also learned some basic meteorology skills so I can determine if the changing weather has become a concern.  The father in this case, appears to have overlooked both of these forms of preparation.  He was winging it, this according to his wife’s description.  My discontent is not over technology per se; it is over the consequences arrising from overreliance and misappliation of technology.

By your admission you are a “spur of the moment type of guy.”  And that is my point; folks of your generation are collectively more impulsive than prior generations.   I think this is at least in part due to the impact of technology, because I see technology has also empowered those in my generation to be more impulsive.  You were born after cellular technology became widespread, so you will have to take my word that there was a time when we were collectively less spontaneous.  Hey, if you are wise to the limitations of technology, it is a tool that will enhance your life.  But there is not much latitude for being mindless and doing things spur of the moment – as this father did – when it comes to hauling children off on a mid winter day hike.  And yes, it is my assertion technology contributes to our impulsive dispositions.

You cite the lack of gear as a contributing factor.  That is a moot point; this would not have occurred had the father done his homework and obtained a weather forecast before he departed.  In any case it is apparent the dad did not perform significant preparation for the hike before he set out.

I cannot tell you if this specific incident was partly due to over reliance on technology, but I can tell you people laugh at my insistence that I locate destinations in my hard copy maps before I set out driving or hiking, because they think their technology eliminates the need for such advance preparation.  And I have been on hikes where folks couldn’t tell me the forecast at the trailhead, but did bring their phones in case a change in weather while under way compelled them to obtain this data.  I see this sort of behavior frequently.  My point is relying of technology and using it in such a manner is bound to result in incidents similar to this one.  But what do I know, I just another out of touch codger with an agenda...

Ed

5:17 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I hesitate to get into this one. However. If the details are correct in the reports I've seen, this particular sad story might be about overconfidence. He was "an experienced hiker," retired from the Air Force, and had been on this trail before.

If so, it might not be about inexperience, or ignorance, or over-reliance on technology. You know that backpacking cliche, "people pack their fears"? Well, not having any makes for an empty pack. God knows I've done it, headed off on a trail I've walked many times before, carrying nothing but a mug. "Just a couple of hours." Luckily, I survived my correction.

Complacency is a high-risk behaviour. You might be wrong this time. You might make a mistake. It all might go bad, even when you're really really sure, even when you've proved many times that you know what you're doing. This is a danger peculiar to the knowledgeable, and we should all be on our guard against it, as we continually improve our skills and rack up our experience. Humility is also a vital part of the survival kit.

5:17 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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There is nothing wrong inherently with "winging it" , that's just heading out on a whim. I do that ALL the time. The difference is having basic equipment essentials with you. I keep a day pack in my truck and when I decide to randomly take a hike I grab my pack, send the wife a text letting her know what i am doing, leave a note in my truck, and head out. Even if you don't have a map of the area its not the end of the world, but not having the bare basics is the root cause of most situations. (not saying that i advocate not carrying maps)

It doesn't matter if it was a spur of the moment/winging it hike, or if it was a well planned event. If one fails to bring the basic essentials with them the end result can still be the same regardless of technology.

This scenario's down fall was that his ONLY equipment was a bottle of water and a cell phone. Not that he had a cell phone, having a cell phone and relying on it as a lifeline is not what caused this tragic event. Failure to bring the basic essentials to provide for himself and his kids is what caused this. Rain gear, a tarp, some warm/insulating layers, space blankets, some energy bars, and a good fire starting kit etc would have turned the tide of this situation.

I carry a smart phone with me on ALL of my hikes. Because I have a smart phone doesnt mean i am going to die in the even of unforseen circumstances. Yes, i do utilize it a great deal, and in a way i do rely on it for many things. However, if it exploded and was no more i would not be in a world of hurt, i would just be inconvienced.

Carry the essentials with you, and frankly in this day and age IMO a cell phone is one of those essentials. IF you own one you should be bringing it with you. You can leave it off and in your pack, but having it with you can make a world of difference in some situations. Heading out with ONLY a cell phone is reckless.

6:18 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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TheRambler said:

There is nothing wrong inherently with "winging it"...

Nor is it my assertion that doing things spontaneously is inherently bad.  The fact you head out with a day pack that was thoughtfully presaged indicates your practice of winging it is different than that exercised in this story.  My point is many use technology on the fly as a substitute for coherent preparation, with their idea of preparation amounting to little more than confirming their battery is charged.

Ed

7:53 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I use my phone to back up my gps and compass. I carry my baltoro 65 when I climg mt mndk.lol I usually have kids with me, so I always have way too much gear. I agree I pack my fears, being cold ,hungry or lost scares me espescially with my kids along. Thats why im so interested in these rescue and gear threads. I do things spur of the moment, but my bag is packed always for that reason.

8:40 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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overmywaders said:

The scout leader - an adult - sent two of the girls back to get a SAR unit to come for the injured girl. (?????) Common sense would say that you have 13 girl scouts and only one injured. Wouldn't it be part of their training to bandage the ankle and then rig a litter or travois from local wood and two shirts? If not a litter, a two person carry, or a crutch and an assistant. The opportunities to learn new skills are endless; instead they wasted three hours summoning some SAR personnel to carry her out.

I would hesitate to judge. We weren't there. The leader has a number of responsibilities to look after, all at the same time.  First and foremost, she has another dozen kids to look out for. We don't know the trail conditions or difficulty, and we don't know whether she felt she could be sure of keeping everyone else safe. It is also possible she wasn't sure of the severity of the injury, and might not have wanted to risk doing further damage. 

Depending on the abilities of the people she sent to find SAR, the time required to build a travois or stretcher might have been prohibitive anyway. Once contacted, sending a quad up the trail would have just taken a short while. This wasn't a 'fun, field exercise' but a real injury with the possibility of escalation. 

There are indeed alternatives - by taping up the whole boot, you can stabilize the ankle enough that for many injuries, the person will be able to limp along. I've also used veterinarian's tape to stabilize sore knees, and I remember just having to grit my teeth and bear the pain of a torn quad all the way down a 750 metre descent at Sunset Pass. 

However, the example you gave of carrying someone out on a stretcher was raised at a course I went on with the Outdoor Council of Canada. In our training scenario we were given an injured hiker, and of course one of the participants suggested we do just that.

We had half-a-dozen tough and experienced mountain guides, and while it sounded like a good idea, the application proved virtually impossible.

Try it sometime - if you have each person carrying 1/4 of the weight, that means they are all carrying perhaps 50 lbs. in one hand, off balance on a singletrack mountain trail,  and with only a jury-rigged stretcher. The two at the head and torso are carrying closer to 60 or 70 lbs each, and the others are carrying their own gear plus someone else's, so nobody gets a real break. We could have continued, on ever-shortening distances, but by the end of the first kilometre or so, we were all pretty much finished.

I'm not sure a troop of girl guides would be quite so hardy. 

10:24 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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If we were all perfect, I for one would be living in a castle in the South of France. :)

However, such is not the case, but it does not mean we can't learn from the mistakes of others.

"Adventure is just bad planning." — Roald Amundsen (1872—1928).

"Having an adventure shows that someone is incompetent, that something has gone wrong. An adventure is interesting enough — in retrospect. Especially to the person who didn't have it." — Vilhjalmur Stefansson, My Life with the Esquimo.

And the always popular, "familiarity breeds contempt."

I'm with Islandess on this one, complacency or underestimating the danger they were in seems to be the primary cause of this incident. Refusing a ride back is a good indicator to me.

11:32 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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sometimes, events conspire to make life more challenging, and a seemingly minor oversight (eg checking the weather forecast on what appears to be a nice day) becomes a much greater problem.  when the temperature drops from the 60's to the 20's and clear skies yield to a hard, cold rain in a few hours, that is a significant change in the weather.  and then you miss a turn, and it gets dark, and your flashlight fails.  This guy was hiking with his ten and eight year old sons and a four month old pup.  He clearly didn't grasp how badly the weather was going to turn and did not feel like he was in harm's way.  plus, once you're out in a cold rain with inadequate clothing or cover, hypothermia quickly clouds your judgment.  

i respectfully disagree that an inexperienced girl scout troop should have tried carrying an injured scout out.  it could exacerbate the injury or result in injuries to other children.  take a look at the linked SAR manual.  specifically, "Without jeopardising the ultimate safety of survivors, foremost consideration shall be given to the potential impact on any medical condition of survivors by the method of recovery or the actions of unqualified persons."

http://natsar.amsa.gov.au/Manuals/Search_and_Rescue_Manual/Index.asp

12:47 a.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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I have been accused of being a Luddite, yet I rely on technology as much as many. Common sense, and I mean common sense in an outdoor situation is most important. Several years ago, three climbers perished on Hood. They were trying to beat the weather on a winter climb. But they underestimated their speed, and did not have the gear to sustain survival for more that a day or two. The storm they were trying to beat was a severe one, and they acknowledged that before the climb. They thought, that if trouble came, SAR could be called, and it was. But SAR could not reach them because of the storm.

Sailors today use GPS, but most blue water sailors take a sextant and know how to use it.

Reliance on one piece of gear, or everything going perfectly, is folly. Do you carry a spare tire? An extra car key hidden on the car? Extra water when driving across the desert? A spare paddle in your canoe? Extra socks when hiking?

I do know, and there have been discussions on this forum on the subject, that some would like to return to the trailhead with nothing left of their food or water. Planning for the unexpected will ensure that you live to hike another day.

I feel for the man's wife, and his surviving children. Will they live in fear of the outdoors because their father and siblings died there? I hope not. And I feel for  the rescuers who had to deal with small children who would no more see the beauty in nature. Their deaths were needless. Especially so since the father turned down help.

I cannot blame the father for his ignorance, but hope that others take a lesson from their passing.

11:31 a.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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I liked the comments by Peter and WhoMe.  I learned a long time ago that people should mind their own business when it comes to what's in your pack.

I have been underdressed a few times when I was in my 20s, but not since.

Know your companions, know the weather, and for God sakes know the way back.

1:34 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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ppine said:

Know your companions, know the weather, and for God sakes know the way back.

A nice summary.... 

11:37 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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the "10 essentials" have been mentioned a few times in this thread. In your opinion what are the 10 essentials?

1:09 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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stingray said:

the "10 essentials" have been mentioned a few times in this thread. In your opinion what are the 10 essentials?

Beer
Pizza
chips
dip
Rolling Stones
NFL game
On a big flat screen
On a warm sunny day
with my buds
And a someone easy on the eyes.

What?  Oh you mean the ten essentials to take along hiking?  Let me see: Beer, pizza... or one can search this forum or most any hiking 101 book, if they are interested.

Ed

 

1:47 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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stingray said:

the "10 essentials" have been mentioned a few times in this thread. In your opinion what are the 10 essentials?

 A "ten essentials" list can be found on many websites and in a lot of books, including "Freedom of the Hills" a standard text on mountaineering, whose authors may have been the ones who originated it, not sure about that. The name is a bit misleading, since we aren't talking literally about ten items, but ten categories of items. In any event, the list has been expanded by some to 14, not 10 essentials.

Here is a list on another site I belong to-

http://www.backpacking.net/ten-essl.html

Here is another list, again this one isn't ten items, but ten groups of items-

http://www.backpacking.net/Jims-10-Essentials.html

These lists are very weather dependent. What someone might carry in the mountains in winter would be far different than summer in most places, but some things, like navigation tools are useful all year round.

11:23 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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Anyone that needs Search and Rescue for a sprained ankle shouldn't be out there.  A friend of mine used to play lacrosse in college and had noodled ankles.  I got mine from basketball.  We were in the Mt Zirkel Wilderness in CO about 15 miles from the truck when he twisted his ankle pretty bad.  We made camp for 2.5 days to let it start to heel.  I carry an Ace bandage and used it.  We split up his gear among the three healthy people left.  We made a crutch and we helped him out.  Uneventful.

1:13 p.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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I just don't get it. The widow says her husband, an Air Force vet, was "an experienced hiker". I scoff.

Furthermore, and I am speaking as one who is not a parent, the resonant facts of this sad story are not about gear or technology. As my friend just told me, and she is a parent, the wife is just as much to blame for the deaths of her husband and sons.

Anybody with the life of two defenseless children in their hands who does what he did is at fault, to blame, responsible, call it what you will, for their hypothermic deaths. Blatantly ignoring the "what if"s" of such an outing led to their tragic end. He ignored preparation, weather, you all know the rest. She ignored it all as well.

That's all, in my opinion. The worst thing was that it happened, the second worst thing was that it was completely preventable.

9:48 p.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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njpaddler said:

I just don't get it. The widow says her husband, an Air Force vet, was "an experienced hiker". I scoff....

When reading SAR reports, I'm always surprised by how many of those needing rescue (and those who die) are described as 'an experienced hiker/woodsman/hunter/climber'. I think that those with some experience are more likely to proceed when things start going bad, where an admitted newbie is often more likely to turn back. 

...The worst thing was that it happened, the second worst thing was that it was completely preventable.

Transit drivers here are allowed one 'preventable' accident in their career. The principle is that if you could have done anything that might have stopped the accident from happening, and didn't, then you are at fault. That's a good way to look at it, IMHO. How about taking some responsibility?

4:25 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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bottom line is if this guy was prepared, it probably wouldn't have happened. I always carry my essentials, including extra insulation and raingear, when dayhiking. sad to say but it was entirely preventable.

5:37 p.m. on February 6, 2013 (EST)
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Very well said dude. Far too often many people that have years under their belt become complacent. And we've all taken chances we shouldn't have. All it takes is one simple mistake, a slight miss step, or an unforseen weather change... and everything goes to hell. I never hit the wild without the bare essentials. And even then, I have to remind myself "if things change from good to bad, knowing when to tap out doesn't mean your a punk". I'm sure we've all had to learn those lessons a time or two. Some of us a time or ten. Lol. Lucky, my buddies and I that hike together don't turn things into a pissing contest. It's much easier to deal with complications when they happen, instead of waiting another 3 or 4 miles in the bush.

I always hate to hear when bad things happen in the outdoors. Mainly because most of the time... it could have been avoided. My sympathy goes out to the victims and their loved ones.

Mother Nature is a beautiful creature, but she is wild. And you don't tame the wild. You work with her, and change to suit her moods. You can't fight her... she'll always win.

BE COOL GUYS

8:22 p.m. on February 6, 2013 (EST)
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What a sad story. Sobering indeed!  I am guilty of going too lean (especially with water) and playing risks when I am alone.  As I read this, I pledged to be safer and more prepared (especially when deciding to turn a half day hike into 3 times that).  When my daughter has been with me, I have always over done the pack and under shot the distance.  She *thinks* I always go way overboard.  Hopefully there were learning moments in all the times I had what we wanted or needed, steering her to make safe choices, now that she is off on her own.  I can't comprehend how a parent risked the lives of his own children (rearing kids is all the training you need to know you can't do what he did -w/wout outdoors experience) with a clear mind. Perhaps there is something we don't know.  But, I shouldn't blame.  Guilty of some lapses in judgement-lucky they didn't turn serious.  Planning on doing better in the future. 

 

10:47 a.m. on February 9, 2013 (EST)
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If you think hard about this subject, day hikers are the most imperiled of all outdoor users. They travel light and fast and can go a long way.  If the weather turns on them, many have little equipment to work with.  We have all made mistakes by going too light in the big mountains.  Usually I feel pretty confindent with water, clothes, firestarter and navigational aids.  Maybe some food.

9:01 p.m. on February 9, 2013 (EST)
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My wife and I came across 2 guys in a very bad way (lost, dehydrated, cold, hungry and the rest) above treeline and far from a trail in thick cloud and heavy rain, my wife and I sorted them out and got them off the mountain, I don't think I have ever someone so scared look so relieved in such a short space of time.

April 19, 2014
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