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Death of a backpacker
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Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Death of a backpacker on 03/24/2011 23:35:31 MDT Print View

The Bping community here in Ohio is mourning one of their own, killed by a tragic tree fall in the Shawnee State forest, our most rugged and remote hiking area:


Edited by nerdboy52 on 03/24/2011 23:37:04 MDT.

brent driggers
(cadyak) - MLife

Locale: southwest georgia
condolences on 03/25/2011 08:48:27 MDT Print View

Very Sorry to hear about that.
I have been pretty scared of the same thing a couple of times.

Andy Schill
(Aschill) - F
Sorry on 03/25/2011 09:03:39 MDT Print View

Wow, that's terrible. I haven't heard about this yet, I'm from Ohio. Thanks for showing it.

I've never thought much about trees falling when camping, but I had a scary incident happen in Michigan last fall. During the middle of a night a very large tree fell right in between my tent and another members just barely missing us.

Edited by Aschill on 03/25/2011 09:06:52 MDT.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Camping near trees on 03/25/2011 09:10:59 MDT Print View

Thanks for the kind words.

The accident does raise some issues I had never really thought about before. Should we avoid camping near trees when there's a strong wind? In Ohio, the weather is very difficult to predict even a day in advance, let alone three days or more that might constitute a longer hike, because of our proximity to the lake. I'm thinking about taking my little weather radio from now on.

Or am I just being paranoid? This incident is the first one I've ever heard of, a cluster (you know what) of several variables that all had to come together at the same time. The chances of a recurrence anytime soon sound pretty slim.


Edited by nerdboy52 on 03/25/2011 09:28:36 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Camping near trees ... and risk in general on 03/25/2011 09:27:18 MDT Print View

There are steps to minimize being hit with deadfall, but there's no 100% solution, even when hiking.

A fellow backpacker who lived in this area was backpacking with a friend and, during the hike, deadfall hit his friend while walking; this hiker died at the scene, far from medical attention. Freak accident. You can't live life pausing at every tree you walk under though. Devastating for all involved, so condolences.

Still I will take my chances with the outdoors as I observe other drivers texting while driving - while simultaneously smoking or eating, racing like the movie "fast n'furious", or just driving in a rage. Or sitting on the couch after a day of work sitting at the terminal. One thing for certain, our chances of death are always 100%, so might as well enjoy life while here.

Edited by hknewman on 03/25/2011 09:29:42 MDT.

Andy Schill
(Aschill) - F
truly sad on 03/25/2011 09:28:47 MDT Print View

The last few weekend trips I went on (just back back from Zaleski.) I tried to make sure there weren't any dead trees around where I was camping. However, the tree that almost nailed me was quite alive and green. However, there were high winds.

albert barragan
(comaone) - F

Locale: PNW
Sorry to hear on 03/25/2011 09:31:07 MDT Print View

I am sorry to hear about this, very tragic. However IMHO when its your turn, its your turn. All I am saying is that this was a freak accident, and accidents are just that, you can prepare and be as careful as you can, but mother nature is mother nature and things turn in a minute.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
very sad on 03/25/2011 11:29:45 MDT Print View

that is very sad news. there is not much you can do to prevent a tree fall in high wind. it's the no wind tree falls that bother me...

on a Boy Scout trip on the C&O Canal i saw two guys in a canoe get taken out by a falling tree - pushed them right to the bottom and they drowned. earlier that day a very large branch (5 inches or so in diameter) had fallen a few feet right in front of us as we hiked the towpath. it was a very pleasant, clear, no wind kind of day. that was in 1988 and that day is always in the back of my mind. when i hear the creak and snap sound, i'm right back to that shore line watching that tree fall.

being mindful of your surroundings is an important part of being out of doors. it amazes me to see the number of people hiking with headphones on. you'll never hear that limb 30' above you snapping.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Death of a backpacker on 03/25/2011 11:54:35 MDT Print View


Very sorry to hear about such a loss to your local backpacking community. A loss to your community is felt, and mourned, by all of us in the greater community of backpackers.

Take care,


Jason Knecht
(distortedaxis) - F

Locale: Earth
Horrible on 03/25/2011 13:05:02 MDT Print View

My condolences go out to the Family and Friend of this woman. It's always sad when you hear about these tragic things.

In reference to Andy's story, I was that other member he was referring to. The tree that literally came down between our two shelters was quite healthy with no visible tell tale sings that would make me avoid it. The branches actually came down on my cuben duomid. Us & gear were unscathed. We were both lucky to say the least. A foot one way or another and one of us might not be here today.

Edited by distortedaxis on 03/25/2011 13:26:56 MDT.

Corey Downing
(hardcorey) - MLife

Locale: Denver
Re: Death of a backpacker on 03/28/2011 16:09:51 MDT Print View

Kind of scary to think about it. I was backpacking there this past weekend and hadn't heard of this. She's the same age as me, graduated from high school the same year less than 25 miles away (and much closer to where I am now).

Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Re: Camping near trees on 03/28/2011 16:42:13 MDT Print View

The only advice I've heard doesn't apply to healthy looking trees in wind:
Avoid dead standing trees, trees or big branches that have fallen but are hung up, under dead branches...

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
camping near trees on 03/28/2011 17:09:00 MDT Print View

If you know your trees you can sometimes try to avoid problems. Trees which grow very fast can have very weak wood structurally. If you look up into a tee and see many weak crotches where the tree might split be more careful. Some trees with lightweight wood like Lindens (Basswood) do well in storms because the wood is so light. The tree mentioned in the article a Red Oak has very heavy dense wood . The limbs on an oak can branch very far out exerting tremendous pressure on a crotch in high winds. And another thing to watch out for are trees in heavy clay soils or in coastal sandy areas. Often the rootball is just a pancake and it doesn't take much to blow the whole tree over. Here in Oregon we also watch out for Doug Firs where too many trees in a natural stand have been taken out . The remaining trees often become prone to losses where they would have been OK if unthinned. It's a complicated situation . Once winds are getting above 45 mph start being more careful. And remember that a deciduous tree in summer has a lot more weight and sail area in that canopy. And ice storms? Look out.

Tyler Barcelli

Locale: Southeast
camping around trees on 03/28/2011 17:24:16 MDT Print View

That is a sad event. Around here, the Southeast, the Southern Pine Beetle has made camping around trees very dangerous. These beetles have destroyed many of the pine forests in the areas where I frequent and it really is a sad sight as once beautiful forests now are just filled with dead trees. Many of the trees are still standing upright, but are dead and rotten and can fall just by leaning against it for a rest, or from a light breeze. Because of the hazard these trees pose, I never camp around these trees. If that means that I am forced to hike another hour or so then so be it. I have had too many close calls with these dead trees when hiking along the trail that I will never camp around them. I believe in the logging business they refer to these as "widow-makers" and I can see why.

Edited by youngster on 03/28/2011 17:35:10 MDT.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Death of a backpacker on 03/28/2011 19:54:59 MDT Print View

That is really sad, especially since it happened so close to home for some of us Ohioans. Those storms moved through really quick Wednesday.

Craig Burton

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Avoidance on 03/31/2011 20:15:45 MDT Print View

A lot of people think our biggest fear when backpacking should be bears or snakes or other mainstream phobias; but personally, falling trees are always my biggest concern. I see enough fallen and weakened trees when hiking and backpacking to realize that I have little control over such a catastrophe.

Some thoughts to avoid such a situation:

-Overused sites. Lots of hatchets, debarking, and campfire damage are done to trees in such sites that make them potentially weaker to storms/winds.

-Creaking noises. A few weeks ago, I came across a creaking noise while trail running along a trail I frequent. I concluded the noise to be coming from an apparently healthy tree and continued on. I came back to that location 2 days later and found that the tree had fallen over.

-Sites below tree-covered slopes. You'll find that most fallen trees are along sloped locations. The root-structure of these trees obviously are not as solid, and usually they will fall downslope. Avoid camping below such locations.

All seem pretty obvious, but at the end of a long/tiring day we tend to overlook such details when setting up camp. I'm not as concerned about such things when active because I feel the environment will give me fair warning, but, as always, prudence should be taken when hiking in severe conditions.

Gregory Petliski
(gregpphoto) - F
Re: Avoidance on 04/01/2011 18:07:53 MDT Print View

Craig, about the creaking, I always thought trees creak all the time, whether or not theyre ready to topple or break?

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Avoidance on 04/01/2011 18:32:37 MDT Print View

One of the biggest impacts on a tree's health comes from ground compaction which reduces oxygen levels. When I took and taught tree care we used a Shigometer which was a probe which was inserted into the cambium of a tree to electrically measure fluid movement. When trees were impacted by road development or additional soil or the parking of cars or heavy equipment they showed steady deterioration on the side(s) affected. Take a good look at the average campground, Continuous parkikg and pitching in the same places time after time. Not good.

Daniel Fosse
(magillagorilla) - F

Locale: Southwest Ohio
Terrible on 04/02/2011 10:09:22 MDT Print View

I saw that squal line on the weather radar last week. It was nasty. Weather gets even harder to predict when you are close to the Ohio river valley. I'm sad to hear about this especially since she was such a young lady.

There are ways to minimize your danger as others have said. Don't camp under ill or dead trees. I have also seen way too many tulip poplars snapped in half to sleep near one. Having said that, I wouldn't have considered an Oak to be a threat. The chances of this kind of accident happening frequently seems very low.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Death of a backpacker on 04/02/2011 12:21:43 MDT Print View

I am grieved to hear of this loss. Prayers are in order for the OH bp community and her family. My parents live in the next town over from where she went to high school, so this is somewhat near home for me as well.

My father and one of their exchange student guests from Norway were hit by the upper half of a large Sequoia in Humboldt several years ago when it catastrophically fell during a wind storm. There was ample warning there regarding the storm, but they somehow did not get word and went forward with their day hike. They wondered why no one was around. Eventually the rangers got to them; my Dad was quite beat up - he had a small branch sticking out of his head somehow and was bloody and bruised. Our Norwegian friend was knocked down but suffered thankfully only bruises. It took my father several weeks to recover, but he is fine now. It was scary.

If I expect wind, respectfully, I prefer to go above tree-line and use large rocks, if available, for break. Otherwise, I will take a windworthy shelter and pay less heed to exposure. Obviously, this does not relate much to Ohio's landscape - where there are falling trees in the forest and lightning in the fields.

Edited by biointegra on 04/02/2011 12:26:51 MDT.