Careful Out There!

Your survival and accident report for the week of July 15th to July 22nd

Photo: Bradley Huchteman

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Falls, lost hikers, animal encounters: Every week, we get reminders that the outdoors can be a dangerous place. Each Monday, we’ll bring you a recap of hiker accidents, losses, and survival triumphs from the preceding week, so you can learn from real-world mishaps and be better prepared for your next outing.

Former Astronaut rescued in Colorado 

Former NASA astronaut Jeffrey Ashby, 65, of Colorado Springs, CO, was rescued by Chaffee County SAR on Sunday, July 15, after falling 500 feet on 14,360-foot La Plata Peak. At 3 a.m. Ashby was located by rescuers, and around 7:30 a.m. a Flight for Life helicopter evacuated him from a steep snowfield, where he had been yelling for help and signaling with a headlamp. Ashby suffered a number of broken bones but is expected to be OK. Lesson learned: Without his headlamp, Search and Rescue likely would not have been able to locate Ashby. If in trouble, signal for help with whatever you have—bright clothing, reflective objects, or lights. It’s never a bad idea to carry a headlamp even on dayhikes.

Helicopter evacuation in Rocky Mountain National Park

A Missouri woman was airlifted out of Rocky Mountain National Park on Tuesday after sliding nearly 100-feet on snowy terrain. The hiker was found about 4 miles from the Glacier Gorge trailhead with numerous injuries and hypothermia. A national guard helicopter flew her to the emergency center at Estes Park Health. Lesson learned: Be sure to check trail conditions before heading out and beware of late-season snow, especially after a big-snow year like this one. Conditions questionable? Pack traction and an ice axe if you have the skills to use them, and retreat if you’re not comfortable.

California hiker drowns in creek

A California resident drowned while hiking with her family in Feather River Canyon on Wednesday. Heather Noone, 48, of Palo Alto, CA, fell into Rock Creek and was pulled underwater by strong currents. Her husband was unable to pull her out, and rescue crews recovered her body later that evening. Lesson learned: Abundant snowmelt across the western U.S. has caused rivers and creeks to run especially high this summer. Take caution when hiking near or crossing moving water. If you do get swept away, float with your feet downstream and your head up, and paddle as hard as you can to the side.

Colorado Fourteener claims a life

Rescue crews found the body of a Colorado man Thursday on Torrey’s Peak, a popular 14,000-footer in the Front Range. Don Chambliss, 71, was reported missing on Tuesday after failing to return from a solo scramble up the challenging Kelso Ridge. Authorities report that the exact cause of death is unknown. Lesson learned: When hiking alone, avoid excessive risks as you have no partner to go for help. Always leave an itinerary and return time with someone at home.

Heat-related death in Maryland

A hiker died on Saturday after experiencing heat-related illness on the Billy Goat Trail outside of Washington, DC. A National Park Service helicopter evacuated Rachel Parkerson, 32, of Severn, MD, to a nearby hospital where she died. Ten other hikers were also evacuated from the area due to a heat index in the triple digits, according to the Washington Post. High temperatures are expected to continue to affect many parts of the country this week, especially the East Coast. Lesson learned: Be prepared for the heat, and always hike with plenty of water. If necessary, consider postponing your hike. Read more tips on hiking in the heat here.

The wilderness is full of dangers. Raging rivers, unpredictable bears, huge avalanches—no matter how prepared you are, a walk in the woods can go from safe to disastrous in the blink of an eye. Out Alive is BACKPACKER’s podcast about real people who survived the unsurvivable. Learn what went wrong, what went right, and how you can increase your odds if the unimaginable happens to you. Listen now, and stay safe.