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Hiking Alone
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Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Solo study on 09/20/2005 08:29:56 MDT Print View


I want to be the guy you pay to hike solo if you are going to do a scientific study.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
solo on 09/20/2005 15:25:53 MDT Print View

Vick I agree. Won't know til I try. Which I will do once my next two trips are completed in the next month. Thanks all for such great insight, I appreciate it!!!

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
Re: solo on 10/14/2005 13:18:16 MDT Print View

I don't know if you remember the climber who got pinned and had to hack of his appendage a little while back to save himself...we try these things and try to balance the risks and do the best we can. Given the choice of not going or going solo, I'll pick going. Everything we do in life sooner or later bumps up against our comfort zone. I know couples who cannot go out to eat if they don't sit in the same booth at that favorite restaurant, try a few benign trips locally and you'll know pretty quick. I also have one friend who now packs a satellite phone.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Solo on 10/14/2005 13:22:49 MDT Print View


I think that you are talking about Aaron Ralston, who wrote Between a Rock and a Hard Place about his experience in Canyonlands.


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: solo on 10/21/2005 17:04:28 MDT Print View

Hi Ken,
Like yourself, I have found that as I age I am finding fewer and fewer partners to backpack with and am faced with the choice of not going or going solo. I have chosen the latter. I have found it to be a deeply satisfying way to be in the Sierra. Like a couple of the posters above, I have found myself in a state of super alertness that translates into instinctive caution in potentially dicey situations. After I became used to this, a lot of my initial reservations about going solo, especially off trail, just sort of evaporated and everything just seems to flow. But I suspect each individual is different in that regard. That said, when I did a 9 day solo route in Sequoia NP this September that involved 3 days off trail, I took a personal locator beacon, mainly to put my wife's mind at ease. You might keep that in mind if the peace of mind of "those left behind" is an issue. They can be rented for about $60/week and will fix your position within about 50 meters and transmit back to a national rescue dispatch center within minutes. They then dispatch the nearest search and rescue team to extract you. This assumes your location has a clear line to the satellites required to do the triangulation necessary to fix your position. Best of luck with it.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
SOLO on 10/21/2005 17:59:13 MDT Print View

Thanks for the replies. Tom I am at that juncture too, especially when wanting to do trips in SEKI. I have some wonderful backpacking friends that are great to do trips with, but with new families starting every year and new babies on the way, I have been regulated to small, short trips with my wife. Our hiking styles and goals are completely different. This adds to bickering and such. Not a way to spend time in the outdoors. The other option is solo. I have some great places to try this out, Big Basin State Park, Castle Rock, and a couple of others in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like day hiking by myself so I hope that if I hike long enough into the day that down time in camp will be minimized. I have a tendency to want to end trips early if I am a days hike out from the Trailhead sometimes. Beacons and sat. phones will be a mandatory item, as well as a detailed route description.
Another concern for me is that most of my friends that backpack are only into doing 5-7 miles per day and not stretching the limits a little.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: SOLO on 10/22/2005 00:33:41 MDT Print View

Awesome thread, definitely worth discussing.

Statistics: the NPS has the best stats. They don't turn up anything meaningful. Mainly because not enough solo hikers are out there dying to provide us with good data, but also, because the experience they've had varies wildly from newbies to the most seasoned vets who simply had a bad day in the mountains.

Climbing statistics are more telling, for climbing routes at least, and they can shed some light on the subject. Solo climbers tend to be more competent, more confident, and more able to assess risk and tuck their ego away (while they're climbing at least, all bets are off back at the bar). As such, at least from glancing through the past 10 years of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, few are true "solo" accidents.

Personal experience climbing: I've gotten myself in stickier situations with groups than I ever have solo, with one or two exceptions. (Especially when Alan Dixon is my climbing partner. We somehow have this thing for climbing and descending in the dark.)

Now, translate all this to backpacking: I think that generally, solo hikers in remote mountainous areas are generally more aware of the risk than those folks that go in groups, and barring the occasional disaster by which boulders pin limbs requiring you to chew your way out of the wolftrap, solo hikers are able to suppress their ego some because no one is watching and they tend to play it fairly safe. However, for more experienced backpackers, going solo means more risk because they may do things that they wouldn't do with others less experienced than them.

I don't think twice about going solo, although I used to: Freedom of the Hills and BSA theology ingrained the awful risks of going solo and it took me a while to deal with that mentally. I do think twice, three, four times about going solo in grizzly country, and in avalanche terrain (winter) and am far more aware of the risks. As such, I try to be extremely careful in both of those situations. I can avoid avalanche conditions in the winter. I can't avoid grizzlies, because you never know when one is around the corner.

The benefits of solo for anyone far outweigh any risks: finding emotional solitude now and then is good for your health. Going solo doesn't mean taking big risks. A simple 3 mile overnight hike close to home on an easy trail is a whole world better than staying at home worrying about what happens if you break your ankle while hiking alone.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Death in Grand Canyon on 10/22/2005 06:11:11 MDT Print View

If anyone hasn't read "Death in Grand Canyon", I highly recommend it. I learned a lot from it. The authors have compiled a list of all known and recorded deaths in Grand Canyon and describle many of them and how they happened. Many of the deaths are not backpacking related, but it's still interesting. Interestingly enough, they come to the conclusion (just a theory) that people tend to take MORE risk when travelling alone... because there is not that other person there to say "wait a minute... I don't know about this". They theorize this because most of the hiking deaths were solo. In any case, as I recall (it's been 2 years since I read it), most of the deaths were avoidable. I hate to say it because accidental death is a tragic thing and one doesn't like to speak ill of the dead... but most of the deaths were caused by lack of knowledge, recklessness, and yes, sometimes, just plain old stupidity... saddly.

The dumbest death was the case of the man who walked over to the Rim Trail to take a picture of Bright Angel Lodge... he stepped over the low stone wall on the rim side of the trail... and with his camera to his face... he started walking backwards to frame the shot and... yup... litterally stepped off into the abyss. Of course, that doesn't tell us anything about solo backpacking... that was a tourist... but I share that with you anyway because it's so unbelieveable. Rangers will tell you all the time that deaths occur at the rim because people have a Disneyland mindset.

Oh, and by the way, statistically speaking, the most dangerous thing you can do at Grand Canyon is to fly over it. I flew in and I believe it. The air there is quite thin (due to the elevation) and most of the planes are small twin engines flown by newer pilots who are trying to get their miles in. And to top it off, the airspace there is some of the most turbulent you will find in North America. I can attest to that! The little Cessna I flew in on was tossed around like a cork on the ocean... I swear there was one bump where I thought the plane was going to invert. I was pretty green for the last 45 mins. of the flight... I didn't lose it... but I came so close a number of times (you know that sickly sweat feeling you get in your mouth just before tossing your cookies... lol). Next time I go, I'm renting a car!

Edited by davidlewis on 10/22/2005 06:24:46 MDT.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: SOLO on 10/22/2005 13:16:59 MDT Print View

>...and sat. phones will be a mandatory item...

Qualcomm Globalstar GSP-1600 satellite phone: 13.2oz (375gm)
Cascade Designs SealLine waterproof zip case: 1.8oz (49gm)

There's a new, cheaper Globalstar SAT-550 phone that weighs 12.6oz (claimed). For me, keeping in touch is the price of going so I can't complain too much about carrying that extra pound.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: SOLO on 10/22/2005 13:47:26 MDT Print View

About those globalstar phones...

I used one this last summer, and they are useful gadgets, but aren't a universal solution (what is?).

Anyway, they work fine and the latency (if you've used an Iridium or other satellite phone you'll know what I'm talking about) isn't noticable at all. You need to be careful when talking because sometimes you can lose the signal by changing the orientation of the phone. They won't work very well at all in heavy timber or in deep valleys, and if you are in Northern BC or Alaska the satellites are very low on the horizon so you have to take that into account -- and the "talk time" at high latitudes might be very limited (if there are no other satellites visible when the one you are relaying through drops below the horizon).

Having said all that, here near the 49th parallel I've generally been able to get a signal -- you need to get a feel for when the phone will work. It is a generally useful gadget. So far the major use the phone has been put to is to coordinate getting rides from trailheads. It has worked extremely well for that (sure beats hitchhiking).

The downside is that when I've hiked with others, it is this wonderful toy and everyone wants to call their girlfriend or their mom or somebody. That isn't why I bring it :(.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
solo on 10/22/2005 15:02:20 MDT Print View

if I were to hike solo, the peace of mind that my wife would have would be priceless. Debating a week long trip next year and a Sat. Phone or a Beacon are the two items I will have to chose from to be able to go.

John Chan
Sat phones??? on 10/24/2005 13:59:21 MDT Print View

If your hiking in the high mountains couldn't you just take advantage of the extensive amateur network of repeaters that dot the countryside?

Altitude (ie LOS) is a HUGE advantage for shortwave operation. When I was in Killarney park I was able to tap into the "local" repeater VE3RMI which was 40 km away transmitting at 1.5W. The guy at the other end said my signal was S9+.

Seems to me studying for your HAM basic qualification and purchasing a 5 W HT is not only cost effective (no charge for transmitting, usually no charge for autopatch if its an emergency) but probably more effective period in potential rescue situations.

That, and you get to pick your callsign.. something you keep until your "key goes silent".


Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Sat phone vs. HAM on 10/26/2005 14:01:44 MDT Print View

I agree with John that a 5 watt HT works great. The only problem is in very remote locations you may not get a repeater, but you can talk with any SAR team, Park Ranger or local law enforcement in the area. Granted some frequencies may be restricted, but in a true emergency, it has been overlooked.
I always bring my Icom IC-T90. A nice little 8.5 ounce insurance package.

John Chan
More on HTs on 10/26/2005 14:53:05 MDT Print View

A 5W HT is truly a multi-purpose item in the bush. There are so many features built into an 8 oz package that most people don't ever get around to READING about them all (much less using them).

For example, with my Yaesu VX-6R I can:

1. Check regional weather from Environment Canada.

2. Set the unit to act as a relay node if others are in the area using shortwaves (thus eliminating the need for repeaters if you are in a spread out group).

3. Program the unit to send a distress signal if I'm unconcious (usually your handle in CW at max TX)

4. Use it as an LED lamp (there is a tiny ultrabright LED built onto the face of the unit)

5. Use the LED lamp to transmit visual CW in your choice of 3 colors. (Either program your character string or TX CW in real-time).

6. Set-up a TX/RX base camp at a home frequency if I bring my ultra-light monofilament dipole + short run of coax. (You can really extend your TX range as a dipole is bi-directional and not omnidirectional like a standard whip antenna).

7. Scan local bands for activity and join in local nets. Usually, you are welcome to... even if you're not a member and its always good to periodically let other HAMs know what you're up to. HAMs seem to have a great memory for these things.

8. There's got to be an 8, 9, 10.... I just haven't gotten that far in the manual yet.


Courtney Waal
(d0rqums) - F
Re: More on HTs on 10/27/2005 17:55:03 MDT Print View

I agree- with a decent antenna (read: not the rubber duck that comes with it) you can get some real mileage from a 5W HT on 2 meters. APRS is also an option, if you can hit another APRS node, even just from a few spots such as peaks, you can have your buddies watching your call sign on a map from the comfort of their armchairs.

On a related note, are any other hams looking to do the Colorado 14er event ( next year? I saw it in QST a few months ago and keep thinking about what I'll be doing in August next year. It's really spurred me to investigate lightweight antennas.

David Frederick
( - F

Locale: Coast
hiking alone on 10/31/2005 16:50:16 MST Print View

I understand the thinking about hiking alone, especially as we age (I'm retired). This summer I was lucky enough to find others to hike with.

One died of a heart attack in Yosemite.
I stepped on a sluggish rattler. The snake got away!
I no longer feel comfortable hiking off trail alone.

Edited by on 10/31/2005 16:51:20 MST.

Curtis Presson
(Obdewla_X) - F
Hiking Alone on 11/06/2005 20:39:57 MST Print View

Hiking solo is very rewarding and is my preferred way of being on the trail. You go when you want to go, stop when you want to stop and having all that solitude is pretty cool. When you hike alone you also have a greater opportunity to see wildlife which is always a big plus.

I would also recommend a trip to somewhere you're familiar with as a warm up or two. This way you at least don't have to deal with the potential anxiety of unfamiliar surroundings while you focus on solo hiking skills. Half the fun of a sucessful solo hike is once you're finished you really feel that you've accomplished something.

I agree with an earlier post... know your limitations. Always take adequate time to prepare for a trip and do your research. There's always a chance for unexpected trail conditions and weather but again if you're prepared it can be very rewarding. Always let someone you know your trip plans... trailhead, trails, hiking direction, etc. Finally, when you're out and you encounter a situation that may exceed your ability or level of experience, listen to the little voice in your head (thanks Mom). You can always tackle it again another day.

My last trip was 4.5 days on the trail in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness area in the Gila National Forest in NM. This was the most remote backcountry trip I've done yet as I saw no one else the entire time I was out. The second day out I encountered very poor trail conditions and bushwhacked for 10 miles but did get to my end-of-the day destination but it was a challenge I was comfortable taking. It was a beautiful hike and I got to see lots of elk, deer and even saw bears for the first time in the woods.

Edited by Obdewla_X on 11/06/2005 20:44:24 MST.

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Sat Phone on 12/19/2005 04:36:54 MST Print View

I do day to muti-week long solo hiking/running/climbing trips. I enjoy the solitude and communion with nature but I'm also very social. In the Sierra there are enough people on major trails that I often have to choose between the joy of moving quickly and the joy of chatting with interesting people.

I do solo technical rock climbs in wilderness but I'm experienced at risk assessment management, know when to push through my fear, know when to retreat and have no dependents.

I leave a highly detailed trip itinerary with a highly detailed person who cares for me. I include route descriptions, maps, equipment and clothing carried, my level of experience, time expected to call in at end of trip, exact time to call authorities if I don't call, phone # and email of authorities to email this note to, description of my car with note in zip-loc bag under windshield wiper with actual departure time etc. I also develop relationships with Ranger Station office personel as well as backcountry rangers (it doesn't hurt one bit if rescuers know and like you). I do this by visiting with rangers in the field and assisting with rescues and visiting field offices regularly to chat, buy maps and books, mention my name each time with an identifying characteristic such as,"I'm the guy with the 5lb. pack" or "from Monterey"or "the old, bald guy who likes to run the trails" etc.

However, in the words of Arlo Guthrie, "That's not what I came here to talk about". The main contribution I'd like to make to this thread is that we rented a satellite phone for a trans-Sierran ski trip last spring. The snow was mushy and 3 days in we turned around. We had no cell phone coverage the entire trip. We pressed a few buttons and we were talking to our shuttle driver to tell him to pick us up at our departure trailhead in 2 days-not on the far side of the range as we had originally planned.

When I move up to the mountains and do alot more adventuring, I expect that I will pony up the 600 bones to purchase one of these bad boys and similar amount for annual service. When I'm writhing in agony with a broken femur or appendicitus that $600/year,14oz. phone and 6oz. GPS will look real cheap.

Cheers, Al

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Henry Coe State Park on 12/19/2005 06:01:31 MST Print View

Here's a surprisingly little known Bay Area Gem. Henry Coe, a collection of former ranches deeded to the State of California, is the largest State Park in N.Ca. It's just a few miles east of Hwy 101 at Morgan Hill. It consists of rolling, grassyhills, oak stands, and little poison oak. You can easily hike for several days without using the same trail. It has a network of trails and fire roads. Be aware that it is hot and dry in the summer. Head for the cooling coastal breezes of Big Basin or better yet the High Sierra when the South Bay starts baking.

Cheers, Al

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Hiking Alone on 12/19/2005 16:36:40 MST Print View

Thanks Alan. Have thought about Coe too. Some of the trails are pretty steep and it does get quite hot in the summer. Better for early spring when I am jonesing to get out. Thought about a Sat. phone but I am leaning towards renting one mainly for the reason that you stated on your ski trip. Great idea calling a shuttle to a different spot or different time. That is money well spent and weight that could really be worth it. One other place that I want to try is Nisene Marks too.