Each year, thousands of hikers, campers, and backpackers have wonderful and safe adventures in America’s backcountry. However, each year also includes its share of hiking and camping mishaps. Hikers can learn from one another’s mistakes; every mistake someone makes on the trail gives the rest of us a chance to improve our own skills. In that vein, here are three hiking mishaps and what you can learn from them.
1. Nearly drowning at Yosemite’s Vernal Fall Pool
In August 2014, a man nearly drowned while trying to exit the pool below the Vernal waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Although there were a number of other hikers near the fall pool, including the man’s wife, only one group of nearby hikers realized that the man was drowning.
The man, who later told rangers he didn’t have much swimming experience, attempted to swim across the pool. He made it to the other side, but discovered that the rocks were too slippery to pull himself out. Fatigued, the man began to drift downstream and bob under the water. It was at this point that another hiker was able to rescue him.
What you can learn: This mishap provides us with several lessons. The first and most obvious lesson is to be wary of swimming in unfamiliar places when you don’t have much swimming experience. The second lesson is that the rocks around rivers and waterfalls can be precariously slippery and will not make climbing out particularly easy. Third, after a long day of hiking, you’re more tired than you may realize at first. Although a refreshing swim in a mountain pool sounds like a great idea at the end of the day, stay close to the bank in case fatigue creeps up on you unexpectedly. Finally — and this last lesson is for bystanders — remember that people who are drowning often do not call for help. They are frequently too busy trying to keep their heads above water to give friends and family any sign that they need assistance. Therefore, learn the signs of drowning and be alert for them.
2. Exhausted on Half Dome
Here’s another cautionary tale from August 2014 from Yosemite, this time at nearby Half Dome. It started as a father-daughter hike, with dad, daughter, and a friend planning to hike Half Dome. The dad was in new hiking boots — hiking boots that the salesman recommended him not to wear on his hike because they weren’t properly broken in yet. However, dad ignored that advice. He also failed to eat an adequate breakfast that morning and didn’t pack any food or water for his hike.
His daughter and her friend realized he was in trouble early on. They encouraged him to go back to the trailhead and wait for them, but, perhaps not wanting to be left out or out-done by younger people, he pushed on. When they got to the cables up Half Dome, again daughter asked dad not to proceed, but again he pushed forward. The daughter and friend hiked ahead of him and waited. And waited.
Two hours later, dad still hadn’t shown up. With the help of other hikers, daughter and friend found dad. He was completely exhausted. They began to head back to the trailhead, but it was slow-going. Soon, night fell. The group hadn’t been planning for a night hike, and they had only a small flashlight, no map, and no compass. This was the point at which they had to call for a rescue.
What you can learn: The biggest lesson here is nothing more complex than learning when to swallow your pride and admit that you can’t do what you set out to do. Had the father admitted early on in the hike that he wasn’t physically able to complete it, he could have turned around and allowed the daughter and her friend to have a nice day hike. Then they all could have had dinner together and it still would have been a nice day. For whatever reason, he wasn’t able to admit to being too tired, too hungry, too dehydrated, and too blistered to go on.
The second lesson is about preparedness. The group made several mistakes that might have prevented this mishap. The first mistake was with the hiking boots. The father chose not to take the advice about breaking them in before attempting Half Dome. The second mistake was with food and water — the father didn’t have enough of either. Finally, the daughter and her friend, who seemed to have been the level-headed ones in this story, nevertheless weren’t prepared for the “what if” scenario of getting caught on the trail at night.
3. Lost on Mount Ouray
The last mishap we’ll cover is a story of what can go right when things go wrong. Over Labor Day Weekend 2008, two hikers got lost in the Uncompahgre Wilderness area of Colorado near Mount Ouray. They’d been doing ok until foggy weather got the better of them and they got off the trail. Once they realized they were lost, they found a place that had cell phone reception and called the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team. However, by the time they called, darkness was falling and the rescuers were not able to get to them that night. Fortunately, the hikers were prepared for such a scenario. They had ways of making a fire and finding adequate shelter. At first light the next day, the rescuers set out to find them and were able to reach them without too many problems.
What you can learn: It’s not unusual to get lost while hiking. If you know that before a hike, you’ll be prepared. You’ll know how to contact rescuers and you’ll have the equipment you need to care for yourself until they can get to you. In this case, the two hikers had the common sense to ask for help as soon as they needed it and were well-equipped for an unexpected night in the wilderness.
Do You Have a Story?
Did you go through your own hiking mishap and live to tell the tale? If you think it will help fellow hikers, share your experience and what you learned in the comments section below.