Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some Thoughts About Hiking

Several weeks ago, a friend went on a six-mile hike that turned into a nine-mile hike. When I asked if she went alone, she replied no, she had gone with a guy. She never hikes alone because if you fall, you might not be found soon enough.

True. However, there are easy to moderate trails where I can't imagine anyone falling that are popular enough that someone in distress would soon receive help.

Setting aside the different degrees of hiking difficulty, here are additional considerations:

1. Do you have a hiking staff or trekking poles that can support your weight to help you rescue yourself? Can your companion(s) carry you out or make a travois to drag you out?

2. Does anyone in your party have a cell phone and the number to call for a rescue team, usually the sheriff's department?

3. Can your or your companion's smart phone provide a GPS fix so the rescue team can be told your location? If not, do you hike with a GPS receiver? If your electronic devices fail or if you don't carry any, is your companion skilled enough with a map and compass to give coordinates for a search unit to begin looking for you?

4. If your companion goes for help, does s/he know the way there and back? Is anyone carrying a pen or pencil and paper, preferably waterproof, to give your coordinates to the rescue unit?

5. How will you protect yourself from dying of hypothermia/hyperthermia while waiting for help that might be many hours away? Do you have insulation from the cold and protection from the sun among your personal attire and emergency sheltering gear? Do you have a fire-making kit?

6. How will you prevent yourself from dying of dehydration while waiting for help that might be days away? Did you take more water than you expected you'd need or do you have the means to collect and purify water your companion might find in the area for you before s/he goes for help?

7. If your hiking companion is the one who gets injured, are you able to do the same things that you're counting on if you were injured?

It's this last point that bothers me. Too many times, I've found that women depend on men to bail them out of trouble to the extent they're virtually helpless. What if it's the man who gets injured?

After all, I once skied with a man who hit a tree. Another man got bucked off a horse and was knocked out for about an hour.

What if a companion hiker doesn't know where they are or how to get help back to the injured party? If it's a less popular trail, it won't be like in town where you can stop at a gas station to ask for directions.

This isn't a matter of one person being more able than another solely because of sex as if it's a matter of physical strength. It's a matter of knowledge and there's no good reason for anyone of either sex not to know or be able to figure out where they are and how to get back.

This isn't about my friend hiking with a guy, either, since I know she's gone hiking with women. The same thing goes for two women hiking together, two men, or a larger group, mixed sex or not. It isn't about her at all. This post contains some thoughts about hiking that arose after my exchange with her.

My point is that more than one person needs to know how to use a map and compass. Leaving the responsibility to a single person just isn't the smart thing to do.

If you hike or want to start, please take a navigation class or teach yourself how to use a map and compass from resources online or books from the public library and PRACTICE.

If you're not interested in hiking but know someone who hikes, please challenge her or him to ensure they know how to use a map and compass and encourage them to learn if they don't.

It's a basic skill for hiking and someone's life may depend on it.

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