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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Life-or-Death Decisions - Injury

Learn how to plan and react when and unexpected injury creeps up on you.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

(Illustration by Supercorn)
(Illustration by Supercorn)

You're lying at the bottom of a steep scree slope, clutching your leg in agony. A moment ago, you were scrambling across the hill above–but one wrong step on a loose rock knocked you off balance and sent you careening down the slope. Could this have been prevented? And what do you do now?

1. Planning
WRONG: Head out without considering the conditions you might encounter, such as exposed scrambling, icy terrain, loose rock, or difficult river crossings.
RIGHT: Research the area to find out which skills are necessary, and call rangers to make sure snow or high water hasn't turned a standard trail into a dangerous route. Make sure you're in good shape before you go–physical fitness improves your ability to stay balanced in tricky terrain and to avoid injury caused by fatigue.

2. Choosing partners
WRONG: Go with your competitive, stubborn friend who just took a mountaineering course and wants to "show you the ropes." RIGHT: Pick knowledgeable companions who won't get summit fever and push beyond your limits. First-aid training doesn't hurt, either.

3. Thinking ahead
WRONG: Hit the trail without thinking about what you'll do if you encounter an unexpected obstacle, like a raging river or icy traverse.
RIGHT: Settle on a plan B with your companions before you leave–what happens if trail conditions are worse than you expect?

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Reader Rating: -


Dec 20, 2008

forgot to add to my post that I'm a LD hiker. things happen.

Dec 20, 2008

got booted off
at any rate, if you haven't BTDT, then don't assume that injuries are a result of improper planning. I should know. I fell 30' on the Eagle Creek Trail of the Oregon PCT. Fortunately, I only suffered a few cuts and a few bruises to write home about, which I did in my blog - complete with pictures.

The tripod to cross a stream is good, if you're using hiking poles; used that on the Zigzag above Timberline Lodge.

Far worse for me was crossing the Sandy River on three logs roped together with the largest log being about 8" in diameter. Scary. My hiking partner couldn't watch!

Dec 07, 2008

I'm assuming that the author meant to say that one should focus on left-brain tasks, since the right brain centers around imagination and feeling. The point is that when reacting to an injury, one should concentrate on practical things, remain calm, think about the facts, and NOT give in to the irrationality associated with right-brain imagination and feeling.

Dec 01, 2008

The recommendation of forming a tripod to cross a stream requires two people to walk sideways, or possibly backward. This does not appear to be a safe bet for stream crossing.


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