Hiker Safety: Yes, You Can!

I’m going to get myself down to the bottom of this mountain,’” Stump recalled.

Kati Weis, CBS Denver

Picking over the bones of the news this morning, I saw a piece that resonated for perhaps obvious reasons. A hiker, near the summit of El Diente in Colorado (one of their 14 thousand-footers) fell and tumbled for about 60 feet. Then, hiked back to her car and drove herself to hospital. That, my friends, is grit.

You can read about it here.

We can debate whether she should have worn her helmet, although I’d throw into that pot the fact that she ended up with a fractured wrist. Her noggin was, but for a simple, suturable laceration to her eye, unscathed. All told, she’s pretty lucky, but not because she “only” suffered her relatively minor injuries. She’s lucky because of who she made herself to be. She’s lucky because she was that woman, staring down the barrel of some unfortunate circumstances, equipped with some powerful mental tools.

“Your power of mindset is always in your control, and you might be in a challenging situation, a situation that may seem really dire… we all have mountains in life, but whatever you choose to focus on, that will determine where your action goes,” 

Regina Stump

Her luck wasn’t handed down to her from the stars. It came from her decision to get her butt off the mountain, come hell or high water. It came from her realization that she would have to actively participate in her own rescue. It came from her inner sense of self preservation, self motivation, and her sense that she is a powerful woman.

I suspect she also knew that the hike down would, in no small part, suck. “Embrace the suck” is a little mantra that gets us through rainy days, endless mud puddles, sore feet, swarms of mosquitoes, and so on. But embracing the suck got her back to the car in much shorter time than sitting helplessly, waiting for a rescue. I don’t know about Colorado, but around here, the first question asked by rescuers almost certainly would be “can you walk” followed by “well, the trailhead’s that way.” This is not out of a lack of sympathy, but because being carried is dangerous for the rescuers and for the rescued. She knew you might as well get on with it.

And so she did a self-assessment.

“the first thing I thought was, am I paralyzed? How are my legs? So, I tried to straighten up, I could do that.”

Regina Stump

A lot of the time, just the act of realizing that you’re not as hurt as you think is enough to turn your mental ship around. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to do the things you’ve done daily since childhood. And in the inverse, it’s a salve when those capabilities are intact, so carefully test for them.

That said, there are injuries, and there are injuries. If you’re fairly positive that you or a member of your party safely constitutes the “walking wounded”, then by all means, shuffle on down to the trailhead. If it seems like you’re gonna need the pros, absolutely hunker down. As always, whenever you start out, have with you all the stuff needed to hunker down, hoping of course that you won’t need it. And of course, if you’re in contact with the authorities, you can float the idea of starting down, and meeting a rescue team along the way. Just coordinate, make any changes in plans known, and keep everyone informed.

When I broke my ankle, I knew it would be a long walk back to the trailhead, even though I had no idea it would be on a broken ankle. What I did know is that night was coming, and with it, cold. I have no doubt that when Ms Stump was weighing her options, this was one part of the equation. Especially these days, as the sun sets ever earlier in the afternoon, it’s more important to consider the elements. “Good sleeping weather” back home, where we just crack the bedroom window a little and enjoy cool night air during our slumber, can mean deadly-cold in the mountains, especially when it’s windy and we don’t have four walls to protect us. Even on those bluebird days, when everything seems picture-perfect, be prepared for the (hopefully!) unlikely event that you’ll need to haul out your Plan B. Or Plan C.

Ms Stump, on realizing the gravity of her situation, said pretty much word-for-word what I did: “I’m going to get off this mountain.” I probably repeated it to myself a thousand times in those few hours, and I have no doubt she did, too. A positive mindset did wonders. I won’t pretend I didn’t have a few dark moments, too. But don’t discount the power of positivity. Telling yourself “I’m getting off this mountain” from the start, and maybe with an added dose of “come hell or high water”, will get you going, and could just make the difference.

As always, stay safe out there.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.