Survival Stories

I Thought I Could Handle the Hike Alone. Then I Fell.

When his brother turned back a few miles into their overnight hike, Jacob Velarde decided to continue solo. It was a mistake.

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This is a preview of a story from our September/October 2021 issue. Read the entire thing (and so much more) with your Outside+ membership.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect as my brother and I set off from the trailhead shortly after sunrise. The air was cool, but I knew that wouldn’t last long—it was summer in the central Arizona desert, after all. I’d chosen this hike for a hot day like today: We’d scramble down into a redrock canyon, where we would swim in crystal pools and camp by a picturesque waterfall. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy hike, though. I’d researched and planned for weeks, knowing the descent into the canyon is notoriously challenging.  

About a mile in, the trail started to dip down to the river and the footing became gravelly and steep. Traction was difficult. After repeated slips on the loose ground, my brother turned to me and said, “This is not the hike for me.” He decided to turn back to the car. Loath to give up on my plan so soon, I opted to continue alone. I was prepared, and it was only a few more miles to the waterfall. I tossed him my keys and made a plan to meet up at the car the next day. 

After another mile or so, the river came into view below me, but the trail became less obvious. I scouted a few possible routes to the canyon bottom, then opted to descend a  brush-covered slope. As soon as I began hiking down, though, I realized the ground was much looser than I’d thought. I decided to climb back up and find another way. 

“I slammed flat on my back, my skull cracking on a baseball-size stone.”

Anticipating some deep water crossings, I’d packed my gear into two medium-size dry bags instead of one large pack. I wore one on my front, and one on my back. I removed the front bag and tossed it, along with my trekking poles, up on a ledge a few feet above me, and began to haul myself up. Then the rock I was standing on broke beneath me. 

My face struck earth first. I was tumbling, dirt and red sandstone flying beneath me as I picked up speed. I am going to die, I thought. 

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