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.