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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


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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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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