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Backpacker Magazine – October 2006

A Dozen Ways to Die

How do hikers meet their maker in the backcountry? The answers may surprise you.

by: Steve Howe


Slavering grizzlies, pouncing cougars, killer blizzards: They're the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters, the terrors that send our pulses racing whether we're sleeping in the woods or reading on the sofa. Perhaps that's because we view wilderness schizophrenically–both as a womblike place where we can heal from civilization's assaults, and as a hostile void where only the über-tough, prepared for death, should venture.

So which is it? Should you take the helmet and ice axe, the PLB and GPS, the bear spray and bug juice? To answer these questions, we studied hundreds of incident reports and interviewed scores of experts–rangers, rescuers, guides, scientists, surviving companions, and a few lucky survivors, too. Along the way, we came up with some surprising conclusions. For one, wilderness fatalities are extraordinarily rare. But when they do happen, they typically aren't the result of climbing, skiing, or BASE jumping accidents; nope, it's hikers who tend to die out there. For another, it's not the giant man-eaters that pose the biggest risk; it's you and me, and our tendency to make foolhardy decisions.

Here you'll read case histories that illustrate ways hikers might expire in the woods. Most of these victims made mistakes–the same kind we all get away with on a regular basis. And therein lies the point: We're not replaying these tragedies to wallow in others' misfortunes. In each tale, we see a bit of ourselves, plus a few lessons that may help you avoid a similar fate.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star
deltazen
Nov 15, 2013

When you die in the wilderness you die, you're dead. You don't meet anyone. Humans are not made by anything or anyone. If you die while recreating in the front country or the back country, you just die. Whether that death is pain free or not depends on the manner of death. However it happens, the deceased does not and cannot meet their maker.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Nov 15, 2013

Live to hike another day by staying found and knowing how to use a compass. Even skilled explorers can become lost or somehow end up spending the night hunkered down because of weather or injury. Many people never consider that they might end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors or waiting for medical help --and so they hike without the essentials. Day-hikes can be the most dangerous because hikers usually carry minimal supplies. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors. Read "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. A compass doesn't need a signal, satellites, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Learn how to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. This book is for all ages. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart."

Star Star Star Star Star
John
Nov 13, 2013

I thought this was a great article. For those of us that only get out there every month or so, it is easy to forget what the 20% of the 80/20 rules are. This article reminded me about several key points that I had forgotten.

Star Star Star
TEEJ
Nov 13, 2013

Whenever I need to be reminded that the wilderness is a death trap, full of dangers that should preclude anyone from venturing in to it's death grip, I know I can find something on Backpacker.

Too much Fear Porn guys.

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