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How to Stay Safe in the Wilderness

Retracing the route to people's accidents can help us prevent our own. These 10 trips lead you to the exact locations of disasters from Denali to the Grand Canyon.

3. Saved By His Six-String
Sliding to his death on mt. timpanogos, a thru-hiker finds that guitar gods really do exist.

The Epic
“Not many people can say a guitar saved their life–me and B.B. King, maybe,” says musician and legendary long-distance hiker “Walkin’” Jim Stoltz. In June 1982, Stoltz was trekking the length of Utah (about 700 miles from Arizona to Idaho) when he scaled snowy Mt. Timpanogos near Provo and spent the night looking down on the twinkling city lights. Downclimbing the next morning proved dicier: Lacking an ice axe and crampons, Stoltz slipped and started sliding on his belly toward a sheer cliff. He kicked and clawed at the ice, but to no avail. “In a way, I gave up,” Stoltz recalls. “I rolled onto my back, thinking at least I’d see what I was about to hit, and that’s when I was jerked to a halt.” The neck of his guitar–which he had lashed to his backpack upside-down, without a case–had plowed into the ice like an axe, stopping him just short of certain death. The guitar still played, too.

The Trip
Timpanogos’s 11,750-foot summit has claimed so many lives that in 1983 locals organized an emergency-response team; volunteers camp near the top each weekend from late June through September. Walkin’ Jim suggests you bring your guitar, but don’t duplicate his mistake; carry an axe and crampons, and know how to use them. From the Aspen Grove trailhead in Uinta National Forest, hike 11 miles one-way to the summit along the Timpanogos Trail. The wilderness boundary at mile 2 kicks off the climbing–4,900 feet in all. You’ll pass a shelter and good camping at Emerald Lake and Timp’s dwindling glacier on the way to the summit’s precipitous fin, where Stoltz took his ride. USGS quads: Aspen Grove, Timpanogos Cave

The Way:
From Provo, head east on US 189 for 12 miles. Turn left onto UT 92 and go 6 miles to the Aspen Grove trailhead.

4. Four Days Of Fury
Mt. Washington ROCKS two young climbers.

The Epic
Hugh Herr and his climbing partner, Jeff Batzer, left their emergency gear behind to go light and fast on Odell’s Gully, a 1,000-foot ice face in Huntington Ravine. But instead of descending after their climb, they decided to hike to Mt. Washington’s summit, then got blindsided by one of the mountain’s infamous squalls. They struggled through 70 mph winds, eventually digging a snow cave and huddling on a bed of spruce branches. The Harvard Hut caretaker initiated a search for the overdue climbers; rescuer Albert Dow died in an avalanche on the second day. On the climbers’ fourth day of exposure, a snowshoer found them. Herr had both legs amputated 3 inches below the knee, and Batzer lost his left foot and all the fingers and toes on his right side. That was 1982; Batzer is now a pastor, and Herr (above) develops biomechatronic prosthetic limbs (incorporating both living tissue and synthetic components) at MIT–and can still climb 5.12 rock routes.

The Trip
Before attempting a winter ascent, get acquainted with this New Hampshire icon in better weather on an 8.4-mile loop connecting the Huntington Ravine and Lion’s Head Trails. You’ll gain about 1,000 feet per mile on your way to Washington’s 6,288-foot summit–the nation’s deadliest, with at least 135 lives lost since 1849. Last season, 30 rescues took place on its slopes. You’ll pass the Harvard cabin at mile 2 before climbing one of the steepest sections of trail in the Presidentials. Continue straight to the Nelson Crag Trail, which leads southwest to the summit. Descend via Tuckerman Ravine and Lion’s Head Trail, switchbacking to Hermit Lake and the shelter of treeline.

Map:
New Hampshire: Presidential Range (AMC)

The Way:
From North Conway, take NH 16 north to the trailhead at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

5. Lewis and Clark Battle the Bitterroots
The Corps of Discovery notches its closest call.

The Epic
No obstacle threatened to derail the Lewis and Clark expedition more than the Bitterroot Mountains, on the Montana-Idaho border. On September 11, 1805, the Corps of Discovery left an encampment they called Traveler’s Rest and headed along a Nez Perce route (today’s Lolo Trail) into the range, which spans 300 miles and is so rugged that no road bisected it until 1961. Steep terrain sent horses and equipment tumbling down gullies, then an autumn snowstorm stopped the party in its tracks. After having no success at hunting game, the Corps survived by eating two of its horses, candles, and bear fat that they’d collected to use as lamp oil and leather conditioner. “We suffered everything Cold, Hunger & Fatigue could impart,” Lewis later wrote. On September 22, the party–starving, frostbitten, and severely dehydrated–finally stumbled into a Nez Perce village on what is now called Weippe Prairie, on the Bitterroots’ western edge.

The Trip
For a 14-mile trek following the expedition’s route along Lolo Creek, head to the Grave Creek trailhead in Lolo National Forest and hike west on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. On day 1, you’ll pass old-growth cedar groves and the Lolo Hot Springs, which, Clark wrote, “Spouted from the rocks, nearly boiling hot.” Today it’s part of a resort (lolohotsprings.com) where you can rent a cabin or tepee. Stay at the springs or at one of 22 tent sites a mile farther down the trail at Lee Creek Campground. The next day, climb steadily through fields of purple camas lilies to Lolo Pass and Packer Meadow’s eye-popping vistas of the peaks that tormented the corps. Park a shuttle car at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center on US 12.

Map:
National Forest Visitor Map Clearwater National Forest

The Way:
From Lolo, MT, go west on US 12 for 16.5 miles to Grave Creek trailhead, at the junction of MT 489.

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