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Backpacking solo
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Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Re: Backpacking solo on 03/23/2014 14:06:39 MDT Print View

I don't really feel much safer with another person along. The last two years I went to the Winds. The first time solo (with my dog) and the last year with a good friend. Both trips were very enjoyable. But if you're 25 miles from the trailhead and another couple hours of driving from civilization, and you get seriously hurt, I'd rather have an electronic means of summoning SAR than be with a partner. (Of course they aren't mutually exclusive.) But just having someone along isn't going to save your life. That's why when I bring a partner along, I only go with EMTs or emergency room doctors. :)

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 03/23/2014 20:14:17 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/01/2015 14:15:29 MDT.

Kelly G
(KellyDT) - F
Solo on 03/24/2014 21:21:12 MDT Print View

Just do it. You will gain confidence as you do it successfully.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
Basic easy overnight trip on 03/24/2014 21:31:30 MDT Print View

I mostly hike solo these days because I split with a fiancee last year and moved to a new city. Also, I like to log serious miles and most people I know have no desire to hike similar mileage.

I think the more you do it, the more comfortable you become.

So to start, plan a basic overnighter on trails you are familiar with. My first overnighter here in Santa Cruz County was the Skyline to Sea trail, which is ~36 miles, though you can add several side trails for extra mileage. I know that trail backwards and forwards as it is my go-to dayhiking trail. Point is, I was comfortable with every twist and turn and know just about every good place to camp, both legal and not so much.

Initially, you will jump at every noise. That's a part of your body's response to sleeping in a new location and missing the protection of familiar walls. After you successfully complete a few basic overnighters, I bet you'll be stoked to try longer trips.

And, after a few trips, if you still feel uneasy when hiking solo, then it probably isn't for you, and there is nothing wrong with that. HYOH. No matter what, enjoy yourself. Happy trails.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Backpacking solo on 03/24/2014 22:07:25 MDT Print View

"But just having someone along isn't going to save your life."

I think you are really wrong on this. A partner could save your life in most conceivable backcountry emergencies. In some of these emergencies you could die before SAR reached you.

here are some scenarios:

seriously injury yourself - partner can help move you, set up a shelter, get you inside a sleeping bag

unconscious - parter can get you sheltered and in a sleeping bag so you don't freeze

unconscious near water - a plb would do you no good here while a partner can watch out for you.

hypothermia - if bad enough you might not be in the right mind to set up a shelter and get warm. a partner can help you here. You could die before SAR reached you, especially if you fell into water (extra bad if sleeping bag/ extra clothing gets wet, in this situation your partner could get you into his gear)
Partner can build a fire, get a shelter up, and get warm food/liquid into you. This happened to me once, not really a life or death emergency, but I was slightly hypothermic and having a non-hypothermic partner to help was very important.

If I had to choose between going solo with a PLB or hiking with a partner without a PLB, I'll choose the hiking partner every time.

In stressful situations having a partner makes things so much easier. You can divide up tasks.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Backpacking solo - a few thoughts on 03/25/2014 01:04:53 MDT Print View

I've been mostly backpacking solo for over 40 years, and learned a few lessons the hard way.

- Hiking with a partner is NOT a solution to all backcountry emergencies. Chances are good your partner will be injured, hypothermic, AMS, ... right along with you. Chances are good that you know more about first aid and survival than your partner. Learn to take care of yourself (and others), and to make safer choices.

- Take classes in backpacking, Wilderness First Aid (Wilderness First Responder is better), even wilderness survival, if they help you feel more confident. Way back when, I took a Sierra Club Basic Mountaineering course that helped a lot.

- Hike on well-traveled trails. If something bad happens, passersby might be able to help or call for help. Or at least identify your remains for next of kin :-)

- When in doubt, bail out. I've cut short many trips when multiple signs were pointing the wrong way. Like the morning I woke up with a bloody nose, giant blisters on both feet, and snow falling when I wasn't prepared. Best to head lower and closer to civilization, not higher and deeper into the wilderness.

- Take a PLB, or something similar, and know their limitations.

- Start with short, easy solo trips and work your way up to longer, more challenging trips. You'll gain experience and confidence with each trip.

Hope this helps.

-- Rex

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Re: Backpacking solo on 03/25/2014 08:26:37 MDT Print View

"I think you are really wrong on this. A partner could save your life in most conceivable backcountry emergencies."

I may be. But you haven't convinced me. If you are unconscious and remain unconscious, then a partner could definitely help. What is your distinction about unconscious near water, sleep walking? :) You also forgot unconscious near a cliff, unconscious near a rattle snake den .... And what happens with your unconscious friend next? Leave him there to go get help?

As far as the first scenario, broken leg, broken arm. I could get my shelter up and in my bag. And send a signal for rescue if necessary. Or in your case, wait for your friend to hike 25 miles and drive into cell coverage to summon help.

Hypothermia? Avoid it or prevent it by keeping your bag dry and dealing with issues like getting soaked immediately. Sure anything is possible, but if someone can't keep their bag dry, recognize when they need to take action to get warm, and start a fire when necessary, that person should not be in the back country alone. Or perhaps at all.

Having the right partner is a lot different than just having a partner. I went with a couple of friends many years ago. He broke through some snow above a creek later in the day and soaked his leather boots. He went to sleep pretty early and the next morning he told us about it and how he was shivering badly so he got in his bag. We were doing camp chores and hadn't noticed it. We discussed that the time to mention that is right away. Not the next day. On the last day he was REALLY slow. Turns out his pack, which he hadn't wore in years and took on this trip because he wanted more volume, was chafing his hips badly. But again he didn't mention it until it was already a problem. I haven't backpacked with him again.

Another time, a friend and I were doing the 4 Pass Loop as an overnight. At his insistence we passed up a nice camp spot maybe an hour before dark. He really wanted to get to another spot he knew a mile or two away. There was a stream crossing and I zipped right though it. He didn't want to get his feet wet so he looked up and down the stream for quite a while trying to find a log or rocks to cross on. Eventually he gave up and took his shoes off, waded, dried his feet, put his shoes back on, etc. Now it's dark, cold and starts raining. The trail is quickly a quagmire and when we get to his spot, it no longer exists. Strong winds had blown over tons of trees in the area. We had to backtrack to a spot near the stream. If I had been by myself, I'd have been warm and dry in my shelter. Instead I was cold with wet feet setting up my shelter in the rain. I wasn't hypothermic but I was cold enough that I was stopping no matter what at that point to avoid it. I quickly got into my bag and was fine. But it was a bad idea to ever get into that situation. Which we discussed at length hiking out the next day and we worked it out and have not had any issues since.

Bottom line is I fully trust myself to avoid most problems and deal with the ones I do encounter. And to carry a means to summon help in a true emergency. If you'd rather go with a partner than solo, that's certainly understandable. But when I do it's because it's someone I want to spend time with, not because I feel safer having them along.

Edited by rlnunix on 03/25/2014 09:01:41 MDT.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Backpacking solo on 03/25/2014 09:47:29 MDT Print View

Randy, sounds like you would have been a bit safer WITHOUT your partner on that occasion. However, I doubt he would have been safer without YOU.

A little less than a decade ago I had a friend die on a trip I planned in Sequoia NP - a simple out, camp for two days, and back on a route to a regular primitive camp area, with reservations no less, where people often bring there little kids on their first overnight trip. In other words an easy trip I planned for a semi-newb backpacker.

I had to back out due to illness, literally at the last moment. I had backpacked with him a few times before, and knew he had minor issues of judgment and situational awareness, at least in my view - but I figured he would be fine.

Anyway, apparently he wandered off exploring on the second day, fell down into a stream, hit his head, and then drowned while he was unconscious. I feel like if I had sucked it up and went with him, in spite of the way I felt, he would not have died. If I had been with him maybe I could have pulled him out of the creek, and maybe he would have had at least a chance. More importantly, if I had been with him I could have probably kept him from making bone-headed decisions, as I had done on a few past trips with him. A ranger who was handling the search told me later that he probably would have died anyway, but I still felt he as just trying to make me feel better.

So while you are technically right about hypothermia, for example, not being an issue if you are prepared, the same thing could be said for the vast majority of injuries. It is the time when we miscalculate that it is nice to have an extra person along, if only so that the other person can have the opportunity to learn from experience from a mistake without having to pay too high a price.

That said, I will still be going solo most of the time anyway.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Backpacking solo on 03/25/2014 10:30:44 MDT Print View

"When in doubt, bail out. I've cut short many trips when multiple signs were pointing the wrong way. Like the morning I woke up with a bloody nose, giant blisters on both feet, and snow falling when I wasn't prepared. Best to head lower and closer to civilization, not higher and deeper into the wilderness."

I would've thought the trip was just starting to get fun at that point. ;-)

I'm kidding of course, but I think a person's perspective on adversity makes a big difference in whether or not they will enjoy going solo. Ask yourself, "if something really challenging happens which threatens to end the trip or even my life, will I enjoy taking on that challenge alone, or will I regret not having someone to help me?"

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
solo hiking on 03/25/2014 10:50:58 MDT Print View

"A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches - that is the right and privilege of any free American"
--Cactus Ed

That is rather how I feel.

I could die in the backcountry. My wife would (hopefully!) lament it. But I truly think that people would feel happy for me in the sense I am doing something I love when I pass on.

I remember seeing my grandfather a few days before he died. This man who fought a war, raised a family and was strong well into his old age. More importantly, through example, he showed my brothers what it was to truly be a man. Not the macho BS that is looked on to be "manly", but rather the real way to be a man: Be honest in your dealings, work hard for those you love, and there is no such thing as "man's work". Grandma would cook a wonderful meal that often last all afternoon; my grandfather would clear the table and wash the dishes while she was enjoying coffee and dessert.

However, the man on his deathbed was not my grandfather any more. Old age robbed his strength. Dementia robbed his personality. He did not die peacefully in his sleep. He was obviously wracked in pain until the end.

I do not romanticize dying out in the wilderness. Could be painful or lingering. Could also be quick and painless.

I do know that I do not want die robbed of whatever makes me *me*, however.

Having said all that, I obviously love backpacking solo.

Another pertinent quote:

"I wait. Now the night flows back, the mighty stillness embraces and includes me; I can see the stars again and the world of starlight. I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of lonliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness
and a quiet exultation. "

So said Cactus Ed....

I really can't say it much better..but because obviously I ramble on, I'm going to say something anyway. :-)

When hiking solo. I do not feel alone. I do much thinking that otherwise would not be done.

Everything is more intense. Somehow the views are vaster, the sounds sharper, the smells more intense. The feelings are overwhelming. In short, I feel intimately
connected to the universe in which I walk. I do not feel alone...but more connected. The longer I am out, the more this feeling is intensified.

On a past hike, I remember being out nearly four days without seeing
anyone. I stumbled in a herd of elk on a damp Oregon day. The sounds of hoofs crashing through the woods, the smell of damp earth, the incredible sight of the
large elk going through the woods. Years later, this image is etched vividly in my memory.

On a trip in he San Juans, I was caught in an early September snowstorm on San Luis saddle . I bailed into Creede. The following day, I was again on a divide. The mountains around me were white, the sky was a deep blue. The air had the crispness of Colorado in autumn. It was an over-whelmingly intense scene. My eyes filled up with the
intense emotion I felt with the beauty encompassing me. Being alone can do that and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Solo hiking can be difficult. You are by yourself, in your own thoughts. You must use your own resources. I don't think being alone is what makes going solo
hard...I think confronting yourself, having all around you that much more intense...that is what people find difficult.

For me, solo hiking turns a backpacking trip from an extended vacation into a wilderness pilgrimage. When going solo, I am forced to confront on a very gut level what I am seeking on the pilgrimage. The beauty, the emotion, my thoughts. And I would not have it any other way.

Is it more dangerous? Perhaps. But I do not take any unnecessary risks. I do not ski avalanche paths. My hiking on technical terrain is on the conservative side and does not take me past my ability level.

Most importantly, my wife has a plan of my itinerary and often a map.

Perhaps I am being foolish gy going solo.

But if we only did things that were 100% safe, a bicycle would never be ridden for the first time, skiing would be something I would never do and I'd have been too timid to ask out my now-wife out on date less I get turned down and embarrass myself (I embarrass myself with Mrs Mags in many different ways now!)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: risks on 03/25/2014 11:17:32 MDT Print View

I've always thought I was in more danger on the way to the trailhead than off the pavement. City life is fraught with dangers! Odd, but we will stand on a street corner with an 80,000 pound bus roaring by at arm's length away and then feel endangered on a trail. Jaywalking a busy street has to have far more odds of catastrophe than walking a dirt path alone.

I had a co-worker who slipped on some easy stairs outside a city center mall and dislocated her shoulder. She was European born and had hiked the Alps with no incident. The irony was not lost on her.

And there was the guy I saw riding a bike the wrong way down a one-way street without a helmet and smoking a cigarette. If he didn't smoke, at least he would make a better organ donor!

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"Backpacking solo" on 03/25/2014 14:00:03 MDT Print View

I agree with Dale. I backpack "solo" most of the time. I've definitely gotten past the whole "let me consider all of the horrible ways thatI could die doing this" thing. Much of that is projection, and a bit irrational. Oh, and I also don't buy into the whole "he died doing what he loved" business either. On the contrary, I take simple and obvious precautions while solo hiking that keep me as safe as possible. Also, since I pretty much stay on trails, out of precaution, it's typical to run into people during the course of a day, or every other day.

I think that fear of hiking solo is a bit like fear of bears. Once you've done it a few times you realize that the danger is exaggerated, mostly in your head.

I feel incredibly at home in the wilderness by myself; hiking solo has helped to give me this gift--and others as well. Also, I get to go more often, and to places that I like going, because I don't have to take a group itinerary into account.

Edited by book on 03/25/2014 14:02:01 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: solo hiking on 03/25/2014 17:17:00 MDT Print View

"I do not romanticize dying out in the wilderness. Could be painful or lingering. Could also be quick and painless.

I do know that I do not want die robbed of whatever makes me *me*, however.

Having said all that, I obviously love backpacking solo." and the rest of your post.

Well said, very well said, indeed.

risks on 03/25/2014 19:40:32 MDT Print View

You might die.
So what?
You might have the time of your life and experience things that will change your life for the better.

You WILL die someday, in some way, that you cannot know beforehand.

Sitting on your sofa afraid to go do anything because something "might" happen , isnt living.

With most things in life, the greatest rewards await those that take the greatest risks.

Phillip Asby
(PGAsby) - M

Locale: North Carolina
Good Stuff on 03/26/2014 11:44:00 MDT Print View

I am relatively new to backpacking and up to this point I've always been on trips with my son's Scout troop. So a group - with a lot of more experienced hikers around (both adult and older scouts).

We've missed some hikes over the past 6 months due to various conflicts and my son and I have talked about going on a trip just the two of us. Now I know this is a thread about a solo trip - but backpacking with a 12 year old who has gone on as many trips as I have (i.e. a newbie, and a young one at that) inspires feelings of trepidation similar to those mentioned about a solo venture - maybe more pressure as I am responsible for my son on at least higher levels (he is a good hiker and knows plenty of basic skills at this point but...).

I've had a hard time pulling the trigger - and reading this thread has been helpful. He is up for the adventure and I am, at least intellectually, getting there.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
preparation on 03/26/2014 12:30:27 MDT Print View

I can only imagine the feelings are different going solo vs taking someone you have responsibility for.

Taking a Wilderness First Aid course may help ease those feelings a bit.

About $200 +/- and a weekend and you will have the basics and perhaps more of a peace of mind to go in the backcountry with your son.

I know in the West, WMI/NOLS is the main instructor. I believe SOLO back East? Not sure where you are located in NC, but they be a class offered locally.

Just one idea anyway.

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Re: Good Stuff on 03/26/2014 12:48:36 MDT Print View

As far as taking your son on a "trip", I wouldn't think it need be exotic, at least not right away. I don't know what your local is like, but around here there are a few state parks that have hike-in only campsites. Some less than a mile from the ranger station or parking lot. That's not to say that you couldn't do 10 miles of trail hiking and take the long way in, or out, but it would be a bit of peace of mind for you and yet an adventure for him.

It would be a great way to build confidence, skill, technique, streamline your system and even lug in some luxory items at first. All the while being close to civilization and probably still in cell phone range, yet being leaps and bounds above backyard or even car camping.

And ditto on the paid training if you can find it. I've yet to find anything worthy in my area without being a full on EMT course.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Red Cross on 03/26/2014 14:19:16 MDT Print View

I forgot the Red Cross also offers a WFA course. The curriculum seems similar.

May be more widely available, too?

fears on 03/26/2014 18:33:51 MDT Print View

I do recall my trepidation at taking a 43 mile trip on the AT with my son when he was 12 thru Roan Highlands on the AT. My son, wasnt worried about a thing. Blind trust in dear old dad I suppose. We planned 4 days, maybe 5, just did not know what to expect with him.

Finished it in 2.5 days Passed up thru-hikers in NC/TN that had been on the trail many weeks. After that, zero hesitance to take any trips. When you know you can walk 20 mpd or more if needed, well any trail just seems like a much smaller place. You really arent that far.

In reality, a mile isnt very far anyway. Even 10 miles is a small distance. People are just very slow walking on foot.

Most people were probably petrified when they first drove a car in heavy traffic when learning, I know I was. After a while, its second nature.

Edited by livingontheroad on 03/26/2014 18:36:52 MDT.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: fears on 03/29/2014 06:29:56 MDT Print View

My first solo was a 4 day trip out in the Mt Rogers area. Simple right? I tried to sabatoge myself with my own thoughts. I got lost on the AT. How does that happen? Well, there is an area where equestrians all saddle up with thier horses and there must have been a club ride because there was at least a dozen horses or more. They blocked the trail head...they blocked the white blaze. After wandering around, I realized the problem, so then I had to push through a sea of horse rump to get to the trail. I was scared I would get kicked. Honestly, I didn't want to die with a hoof in my head.

As I continued the next day, I couldn't find where the next campsite was. I looked at the map...I thought it was further than it really was so I bedded down in a grove of trees...found a small trickle of water and scooped it up in a baggie. I was crying the entire time. Mad at who knows what. But something happened when I awoke the next day. I listened to the stillness of that grove....I felt strong within...and decided this wasn't so bad after all. Yes, I fell along the way on the last day. I went head first on a downhill, slid and landed on the Virginia Creeper trail with a thud and face plant in the dirt.

While I was finishing up, a thru hiker who was SOBO, had been passing me from time to time along the way ( very UL, btw) saw me in Damascus and came running out and we hugged. He knew it was my first solo. It was the icing on the cake. When I approached my car, I was dirty, sore, and beat up.

I'm going out this summer to do the Foothills Trail solo. I can't wait to see what adventure it brings.

Good luck in your quest of facing your fears. It's our mind and the voices of others that tend to hold us back.

Edited by leadfoot on 03/29/2014 06:35:26 MDT.