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October 2006

A Dozen Ways to Die

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

The 6 Deadly Sins
Experts say these bad backcountry behaviors contribute to many wilderness fatalities.
Forget about your “average” victim: Men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages, experience levels, and ambitions die in the mountains. But while there’s no common demographic profile, victims do share certain traits, especially the following.

Summit Hypnosis “Two years ago in autumn,” recalls Mark Magnussen, chief ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, “we had a guy who’d attempted Longs Peak three or four times. He was determined to summit despite inadequate equipment and an incoming snowstorm. We found him the next day, on top, dead from exposure.”

Big-Trip Blinders “Most of our fatalities involve thru-hikers or people who’ve planned big vacations,” says Adrienne Freeman, public information officer at Yosemite. “They get to a section with more snow than they expected, but they’ve been preparing for months, so they do it anyway.”

Poor Conditioning “This is a huge contributor in a lot of our accidents,” says Mike Gauthier, Rainier’s head climbing ranger. “It complicates everything, from your ability to stay warm to your response in an emergency.”

Inattentiveness “Victims fail to pay attention to the factors around them,” says Magnussen. “Weather, your partners’ physical condition, terrain–too often, they’re preoccupied with reaching a destination, looking at the scenery, or just relaxing.”

Bad Communication “People often don’t know the true strengths and weaknesses of their partners,” warns Gauthier. “If a guy says he knows crevasse rescue, make sure.”

Soloing “I’m a huge advocate,” says Freeman, “but our victims have often been successfully soloing for years. They’ve just never had anything go wrong–and now there’s no one to help them.”

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  1. jz-unlimitedoutlook-com

    I was recently rescued from the San Juan Mountains (Oct 2015). I was solo hiking and woke up after a decent snow fall obscured the trails. While I thought I was at Hunchback pass I was not. I had good equipment, food, map and compass. The time that followed I obsessed about getting my clothes and boots dry. I did not have GPS or experience in that area. I did have good sense. When looking at the pass I believed I was supposed to climb, I decided since I did not have crampons or any equipment to allow me to continue safely. I descended 1500 feet to get off the pass and waited for help. I had let quite a few people know where I was and figured help would come. It did. I am older and wiser and now researching the appropriate electronic devices to allow me to safely solo hike in the future.

    Profile photo of jz-unlimitedoutlook-com

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