My closest call was probably kayaking, not hiking. Here's something I cut and pasted from a post of mine from a few years ago on foldingkayaks.org:
I have returned from my planned Alaskan jaunt and I am notionally whole, but also wiser.
For those of you not in the know- I have spent the past year planning a trip down the mightly Stikine River in British Columbia, into the Inside Passage near Wrangell AK, and up to LeConte Bay. Some friends and I planned to have an outfitter take us 160 miles up the Stikine via jet-boat, after which we would spend about 5 days going downriver and then a few days on the sea near Wrangell, to include the aforementioned peek at LeConte Glacier. (The river trip goes quickly because the current is as fast as 9 knots.) Despite its speed the river is flat, and described as a "novice river" in all the guidebooks. The authoratative work on the river, by Jennifer Voss, describes many people drifting serenely downriver even in sea kayaks (many of them folding) over the years.
Well, it turns out that spring was late and sudden this year in SE Alaska. When we arrived the Stikine was in full flood. But wait! Not only in flood but in "the worst flood since the 1950s." Hmm. That water seemed to be flowing pretty fast, too, even for 9 knots... (Later we'd find out it was more like 14 knots.) Our outfitter assured us that the high water really only meant some difficulty finding good camping, since a lot of the sites were under water, but that the river was still flat and broad.
The local river rats at Telegraph Creek (the town 160 miles upriver) recommended portaging one spot, which we diligently marked on our maps. The Voss book had said that the same spot was the only remotely hairy spot on the lower river, so portaging seemed reasonable. We had noticed some moderately sized standing waves during the boat trip upriver, but they were all in the first 20 miles or so and all in the main channel and we thought we could avoid them by sticking to the eddys as the river is very wide.
You must understand, when the current is 14 knots you have little reaction time (especially in a sea kayak). Also, while none of the waves were really big, there is a LOT of water pushing you through them. We made it about 6 miles.
The first bad omen- Sam slipped in the mud while getting in his kayak and got wet. We then pushed out into the channel and found our sea legs for the first mile or so. We then plowed right through the first set of waves, which had been hidden around a turn. Invigorating, but not difficult. Nonetheless I was having doubts about the river conditions. Tyler got spun around in those first rapids and almost hit the second going backwards as I watched helplessly from an eddy, but he managed to pirouette nicely just before entering them. (He had actually been taking whitewater classes, and thus in some respects may have been the best prepared of us all.)
We progressed downriver, and I only really got sucked into one other set of waves, but I really had to fight to keep from broaching. I soon realized, however, that I was generally the only one who was successfully staying out of the main channel (and the waves). Actually the rest of the group may not have been TRYING to stay in the eddys and soon was spread out over a half mile ahead of me, fighting their way through the heavy water in the main channel. I had just decided that we had had enough fun and was going to set about rounding everyone up to get out of the water when I came around a bend and saw Greg's kayak pushed up against a wall on the left bank where the main current nudged against it.
Greg was not in the kayak.
My first thought was "Hell, Greg's dead."
I pulled a little too close to his kayak to look for him and had to make a few vigorous moves to stay away from the wall and pull into the eddy just before it. Greg's kayak was turned sideways, pushed up against the wall, though all the gear he had stowed on deck seemed intact. Still no sign of Greg, though.
Then I spotted a quick flash of something above the water a good half mile downstream. My heart soared! It was Greg's arms churning as he swam for the right bank! (Greg later described "I was under water far too long, on the kayak, then the kayakon me, then just pushed down, upside down, rightside up..." etc.)
Thus, my second thought was "This pretty much validates my decision to abort, though."
I pulled into the current and made for him with a will. Nonetheless I couldn't quite make the bank where he landed and had to settle for calling to him as I slipped past him. He answered and seemed OK. A glance back showed that his kayak had gotten free and was following me down the river. A glance ahead showed Sam and Tyler still proceeding downriver in blissful ignorance. I decided to catch them and tell them to stop. I was off.
I caught them in pretty short order, actually, because they pulled into an island around the next bend to wait for us. I pulled in and told them about Greg, then set about rigging a tow out of my throw-bag, then told them to stay put and listen to channel 16 and set out after Greg's kayak. I never could catch it though- didn't even catch sight of it actually- it had gotten too far ahead of me while I talked to Sam and Tyler. Eventually I though better of risking my life chasing it by myself for tens of miles downriver, even if there was a VERY expensive camera lashed to the rear deck, and I pulled in and called Sam.
The weird thing was that Greg has been kayaking for years- longer than any of us. If I were to pick the guy in our group least likely to take a swim it would have been Greg. He was just happily plowing straight down the channel but, as I said, the river was pushing a LOT of water and just shoved him into the wall.
Anyway, Sam and Tyler crossed to the right bank and asked some locals for help fetching Greg. A very helpful Tahltan gentleman named Arthur (and his two boys) hauled me to where the group had collected at a local fishing camp in his pickup truck. Arthur's first words to me, upon seeing my rifle, was "Jeez, I'm sure glad one of us has a gun. This spot you landed in has a lot of Griz." Food for thought. Greg got warmed up at a campfire then checked out in the town clinic, and we hired the local river rats to haul all of our gear (less Greg's) back to Telegraph Creek.
Of course, all the locals were saying "Yeah, any other time this'd be a novice river, but not now..."
As an aside, teenaged Tyler caught an enormous salmon when one of the guys at the fishing camp let him throw a line in. He was quite proud, and remains unfazed by the days events.
We called our outfitter in a foul mood. Though we acknowledged that we had gotten ourselves into this mess, he also could have better appraised us of the river conditions. In particular a little heads up before we actually flew up there so we could modify our plans would've been nice. (But I guess he really wanted the $800 he charged for the water taxi service- which was admitted a very good price.) He felt a little sheepish, especially since the crew that dropped us off just refueled and jetted away in notime flat, but this didn't stop him fromasking us to at least cover the cost of gas to come pick us up and take us back to Wrangell. We still had to cool our heels in Telegraph Creekfor a couple of days waiting for an opening in his schedule, so we did some hiking and hauled the (remaining) kayaks to a local lake. We also spent most of the nights teaching Tyler to play Texas Hold'Em. I learned that Greg can't bluff to save his life.
Actually, the area is stunningly beautiful. It is much drier on that side of the coast range, and the nearest neighbor is 80 miles away.
Well, we decided to stay in Wrangell overnight, then have the outfitter drop us off near LeConte Bay so we could salvage something fromthe trip. Sam and I donated clothes to Greg, but he had also lost his tent, sleeping bag, and all the cooking supplies that the three others (less me) had planned to share. He bought a cheap Coleman sleeping bag as a replacement, and I decided to let him use my tent and I'd just sleep in my Hennessey Hammock. We also decided to use my Kelly Kettle to cook for the whole group for the rest of the trip, as it had performed admirably up to this point. (Incidentally, I was VERY impressed with both the Hennessey Hammock and the Kelly Kettle. I may buy the smaller Kettle soon, for less arduous trips. And for those of you who bemoan your kayaks' cargo capacity as being only sufficient for weekend trips- the Hammock packs MUCH smaller than a tent and pad, thus making room for more food, etc.)
Now, recall that I mentioned a late spring? One of the outfitter's crews came in and reported that the LeConte Bay was still chock full of bergs. We decided not to push our luck.
Ultimately we spent the rest of our time on a kayaking excursion around the Wrangell area. We crossed the 4-mile channel to Woronkofski Island and spent some time there- we had lunch next to a quite scenic beaver pond. After a brief hiatus we then made our way to the mainland near the Stikine Delta.
There is a US Forest Service cabin at a place called Garnet Ledge that we spent a very comfortable night in, using the wood-burning stove to full effect. We even spent an evening digging garnets, and produced quite a collection. (As fate would have it my daughter's birthstone is garnet, so in a few years when she is in the "pretty-rock stage" I shall present her with the little sack of garnets I dug for her myself in Alaska.)
We then hopped our way south down the coast, camping as we went. At one point Greg and I hiked up to a 2-mile long alpine lake where we had heard there was another USFS cabin. We were scouting to see if we could have another cozy night similar to our time at Garnet Ledge, but the trail dead-ended at the lakeshore and the cabin was nowhere to be seen. There was however a battered aluminum skiff there, with one broken wooden oar and one cheapo aluminum canoe paddle. We got halfway down the lake before we decided that even if there was a cabin at the far end of the lake that returning and hauling ourselves, the other two guys, and our gear was not worth the effort. Also, the skiff was taking on an unsettling amount of water through a badly patched crack in the hull. We decided to just camp.
Another spot we camped was apparently a very poplular fishing spot. All the groups who motored over from Wrangell in their boats were heavily armed, which made me feel vindicated for packing my Marlin. Never did see a single bear, though.
Ultimately, a very satisfying paddle, though not the epic one we had planned. And of course the details of the last few days are not as entertaining as the first few... (Actually, come to think of it one night we nearly lost the kayaks to a freak midnight high-high tide. Another lesson driven home.)