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Reading how a 13-year-old shouted away a nearby mountain lion at a regional park in Glen Ellen this week reminded me yet again why hiking alone is not always the smartest choice.

Another reminder came a couple of weeks ago when I was about to pull into a trailhead in northern California at Whiskeytown Lake and saw a few bear cubs scurry across the road directly to where I was about to hike. If I had been with a big group, I might have headed in that direction anyway. Instead, without the power of numbers and being entirely unfamiliar with the trail, I and my companion headed elsewhere in that amazing park.

Don’t mistake me – I find solo walks deep into canyons or up rugged mountainsides blissfully therapeutic. There’s no better place sometimes for reflection, meditation, limit-testing, and just escapism from the daily grind. So when I do hike with a group, I’ve managed to find the space, physically and psychologically, to separate for some personal time. It’s not the same as trekking out alone where you’re in total control of your schedule, your path and every decision to be made, but there are perils to taking it solo.

Manage the risks smartly and chances are good that a hike by yourself will be uneventful, but I can’t shake thinking about the tragic accounts of two hikers who headed into Mount Tam alone in recent weeks and never made it out alive. Those two stories are deeply disturbing and sobering.

Maybe your ‘group’ is  just one person (aka, the buddy system – the savvy Chronicle outdoors writer Tom Sienstra compares it to the survivalist traditions taught in Boy Scouts) or it’s an organized group or an impromptu “hey-I-see-we’re-headed-up-the-same-trail…let’s-stay-in-sight.”

However you manage it, having company on a trail can be a lifesaver. Literally.

 


Comments

3 Comments

  1. Morris Hamm

    I agree with the bliss and the solitude of a solitary hike but I was expecting some more practical tips than stay in sight of a group. He did not mention leaving information with anyone about expected route and return time to start a search if he disappears. How about taking a compass, a space blanket, waterproof matches, small first aid kit, cell phone (no service but the signal can be located), walking stick for defense/emergency splint, etc.? I would guess the author has more of these in mind than I do but it would be nice to hear his version.

    April 23rd, 2014 9:32 am

  2. trailhead

    Morris:
    Yes, those are all useful things to have. I would add a few other key tips for hiking alone:
    - Know the path and area well.
    - Tell someone where you’re going and when you should be back.
    - If there’s a place to check in when you start, like a ranger station or bulletin board, do so.
    - Check the weather carefully.
    - Extra socks
    - Food, especially if blood sugar may be an issue.
    - Whistle
    - Extra water
    - Sunscreen
    - Flashlight
    - Insect protection
    - Common sense

    April 23rd, 2014 9:45 am

  3. marko

    tstienstra@sfchronicle.com.

    Hello,

    Stienstra refers to “The Order”…My recollection is that the Order of the Arrow was also referred to
    as ‘the OA’ and NOT as “The Order”…..
    “The Order” is detailed in Wikipedia, but even before
    the formation of the white supremacy group, we called it “the OA” and not “the Order.” Maybe it had different monikers in different regions; my reference was in SF and the Bay area.
    marko
    The Order (group)
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Order
    Formation 1983
    Type White nationalism
    Purpose/focus Paramilitary fomenting white nationalist revolution, against what they call the Zionist Occupation Government.
    Location United States

    April 24th, 2014 5:50 pm

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