Last month those of us here in Oregon (and around the US) watched a local story unfold on the news, yet another missing hiker in the Columbia Gorge. Sadly, it happens pretty frequently. I watched with a heavy heart as day after day passed by that Annie Schmidt was still lost (she went missing on Oct 16th, it was suspected that she was hiking alone near Bonneville dam). Her remains were finally found on Nov 11th near the bottom of a steep Munra point trail.
photo via @quasiwordly on Instagram, this popular trail is very dangerous especially during the fall/winter and early spring seasons
Yet another very real reminder that my solo hiking may not always have a happy ending.
I can’t count number of times I thought about Annie and how, like herself… I love the outdoors, the adventure of taking on a new trail, and often I do this alone because I have more time than everyone else that I know, and no one seems to enjoy hiking as much as I do. Having said that, I do feel like I am exceedingly precautions. To the point it’s almost overboard, but hey! At least I know that I’ve done everything I can to increase my safety.
With this weighing on my mind, I began to wonder if there are things I could do to be more safe, and am I really as cautious as I think I am? As I started to create my list of safety measures, it seems very apparent that I do indeed put “safety first.”
The obvious, and probably one of the most important safety tip is to hike in a group. So I’ll just get that one out of the way! 😜
Top 10 Tips For Safe Hiking:
- Ensure that you have the 10 Hiking Essentials and that you are familiar with all the items, and that they fit comfortably in your day pack. This is a large list but can definitely save your life in the event of an emergency.
- If you are hiking alone, make sure that at least 2 people know exactly where you are going- trail head name, and trail systems that you might be traversing and the end point, and have a general idea of how long you will be gone. (I know my pace extremely well so I have it down to within a 30 min time frame and consistently keep that pace) I make sure to leave room for breaks, lunch and photo opportunities.
- Make sure you know where you are going and how to get there, and if you come to find that you are unsure… throw in the towel. It’s super easy to drive 2 hours out trying to find a trailhead only to realize that the info you have is not accurate, but it’s best not to go on foot without proper GPS and maps that are accurate.
- Always keep a knife or multi use tool with you, just in case.
- Carry bear repellent and/or an anti bear bell and mace pepper spray.
- Have a fully charged cell phone on you (often times there may be cell reception, it’s always better to have your phone charged and with you just in case. The Cairn app will show you cell reception areas) If for some reason you or your group don’t have one, you may want to reconsider starting out.
- Know the terrain, do your research there are plenty of online mapping systems and websites that have very detailed hiking guides (I use the Cairn app, caltopo.com (free maps that you can print and download), Oregonhikers.org, guide books and local area maps to help me determine what the terrain will be like. In addition to that I’ve joined several local hiking groups on FB and will often times ask questions about hikes to find out more info)
- If you are hiking alone remember to be especially cautious of your footing and be thoughtful before you try to go off trail/climb areas that are unsafe just to get that perfect shot. I’m typically the type that would do that, but I have promised Kris that when I’m alone I will stay on the trail and not climb near edges/cliffs… it’s hard to stick to sometimes!
- Try not to use headphones, it may just be my opinion but it seems that it dulls your senses a bit and could potentially take your attention away from being fully aware of your surroundings (especially when hiking alone)
- Proper footwear. Nike can only handle so much, my experience is that a sturdy pair of trail running shoes or hiking boots are best. They protect your ankles better, keep toes from slamming into rocks and offer better traction
It sounds like a lot of stuff to carry, but honestly I use a very small daypack/”camelpak” combo and I fit everything in there. I wear my layers and tie my jacket around my waist if I seems too warm out.
My daughter says I remind her of Russel from the movie “UP”- he’s the little boy scout that carries around a huge backpack filled with gear (I know right? 😂) At first I was offended, since I don’t think he represents a grown adult woman very well, but then I realized that I really like Russel and his over achieving preparedness! haha But the point here is, I treat every hike the same. Even if I’ve done the hike 5 times before and even if it’s only a mile. I respect the fact that things can change really fast in nature, and I want to be prepared.
One thing I didn’t list, but have learned to never ignore is my intuition. There was one particular time that I went in search of a “hidden” unnamed waterfall and not only were the falls said to be difficult to find but the trail leading to the area where the falls were at was also difficult to find. When I arrived to begin my hike I hadn’t realized that my phone had not been charging the whole time I was driving there and the battery had depleted to 20%. I decided to head out to search for the trail anyway… after over an hour of hiking around and getting myself in a very precarious situation I turned back and headed for my car. Looking back, I realize I should have stopped myself the moment I knew my phone wouldn’t last long (it had all my trail info and there was spotty cell reception in case of emergencies). My gut told me not to go, and I nearly fell down a very shear cliff trying to get back the way I came because I knew something wasn’t right. Turns out I was super far from where I needed to be, and was on a trail that was meant to be one way due to the terrain. Lesson learned!
It’s inevitable every time I go on a solo hike that my thoughts run over the number of things that can go wrong. But once I start out on the trail, this peaceful calm washes over me and I can’t possibly imagine something bad happening… but unfortunately it can, and the recent events with Annie have been a harsh and needed reminder that something so fun and good spirited could become a tragedy.
What are some ways you keep safe out on the trail? Leave a comment with your thoughts on hiking safety and solo hiking, would love to hear from others! 😊 ✌🏼