On the Trail: Solo hikes have their benefits and risks
September 3, 2018
There are always those questions swirling around hiking alone: how smart is it and what if you get hurt or fall and no one finds you?
It plays out over-and-over again in the mountains with recoveries: "The individual was hiking alone," many of the statements on rescues and the unfortunate body recoveries will say.
I got a new taste of pondering that question when I did a solo trip up the relatively tame La Plata Peak. I'm not a fourteener-bagger; I'm not going to get all of them in my life, I know that. But I do enjoy the challenge and the internal push.
But is it smart to hike alone? The short answer everyone will tell you is: No. The long answer is:
While we enjoy going with friends, there is a strong pull to the solitude of being alone in nature and going at your own pace. It's much like skiing or snowboarding alone: Some days you just need to do it.
Of my eight attempts on fourteeners, three were solo trips and those all were on a Aug. 14 — the day my father passed away in 1997. I need to be out that day and not around people, including the Aug. 14 a few weeks ago.
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As a seasoned hiker I have the daypack dialed in, I let my wife know when I'm on the trail and when I'm off, and I've been turned back because of weather.
But we know those aren't fail-safe practices. People go missing, much like the report over the weekend of the man found dead after attempting Longs Peak (which I've summited a couple of times).
And it can happen anywhere at any time. On my way down La Plata and just about a mile from the trailhead, I had a slip. The next thing I know, I'm one summersault down a steep embankment and trying to avoid a second head-over-heels as I headed toward a creek.
I got my bearings, put my feet in front of me and was able to hook the base of a tree with my ankle. Thanks to a full daypack, my head didn't hit the ground when my feet came out from under me.
After I stopped about 20 feet down from the trail (it felt like 100), I surveyed my cuts and could move without much pain so I knew nothing was broken.
After a few minutes to gather myself and address some bleeding, I made my way back up to the trail and sat for a bit.
Should I be hiking alone? That came across my mind in my moments of gratitude.
Was I lucky this time? No doubt. Never having a fall like that, I tried to figure my misstep.
Was I alone even though I was by myself? Thanks, Dad, for having my back again.