Tragedies on the Trail… And What We Need To Learn From Them

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As you know, I’m not only an advocate for female outdoor leaders but for women feeling unlimited in what they can accomplish on their own – a feat most customary for men, yet still taboo for the ladies.

A recent devastating headline involving a female hiker in the Portland, Oregon area has really hit home for me – to summarize, a fellow hiker in my online Pacific Northwest hiking group has been missing since mid-December and was last seen in the Multnomah Falls area. I have never felt threatened, by man or nature, while hiking alone, but this genre of happenings are disruptive to any female hiker’s confidence and sense of security.

But that’s another thing I’m an advocate for – not letting those unlikely perils gain control over your life. If we did, we would all be house-ridden and lead excruciatingly boring lives. I’d rather be putting my life at risk to live it to the fullest than live in fear.

We can’t spend our time afraid, but we can spend it being smart. With such tragedies affecting the hiking community, we – as female hikers – have to remember to:

  • First and foremost, stay positive and confident; the odds are in your favor. In Spring 2015, 39.67 million people reported they had hiked or backpacked. We can safely estimate an overwhelming majority of this group had safe experiences.
  • But don’t get cocky and think, “It can’t happen to me.” Always tell at least one person where you’re going (including the town, the trail name, and the trailhead you’re parking at), who you’re with, and what time you expect to be back. I also give a trusted friend a “panic time,” which is a time that I would have, without a doubt, been in touch – this is when I give them the OK to reach out to the authorities (and my mom).
  • Always be aware! … Which isn’t hard, since we tend to be most in tune with our surroundings while on the trail. Avoid wearing earbuds and listening to music, do take note of people you encounter, and look behind you every once in a while – I’m not saying you should hike like you’re in a low-budget horror film, but scoping out the scene is an extra precaution. Trust your instincts; if you feel like something is off, it probably is. These tips can also help save another person’s life… We have a basis of where this missing hiker is because of fellow hikers who remember seeing her on the trail that day.
  • Know your hiking buddy. I witness many people in my hiking group ask for a partner on upcoming trips and while meeting a like-minded person is fun and great, going off the grid with a stranger isn’t the safest idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use hiking as a way to meet new people; try arranging a large group to take on the trail or invite a friend you do know to crash your adventure. There’s a reason they say there is a power in numbers.
  • Utilize technology to your advantage. If service allows, text a friend a selfie from the trailhead, post that crazy viewpoint pic on Instagram, or share your hike on the Yonder app while taking a water break. If you don’t show up for your “panic time,” it gives authorities a great starting point to finding you. This was a major downfall in tracking down this missing hiker; no one knew where to begin the search and it was days before they even located her vehicle at the trailhead.
  • Plan on spending the night. Always pack your bag with a few snacks, water, an extra layer, headlamp, and emergency supplies like a space blanket, fire starter, and signal mirror. I pack this S.O.L. (Survive Outdoors Longer) Scout Survival Kit, which has the essentials in a compact, waterproof bag. I know, I know, it feels silly to pack so much for something like a simple 3 mile hike, but you seriously never know what could happen! Being prepared can preserve your life until help can arrive.
  • Boost your confidence with additional gear. Extra equipment like a Satellite Phone, mace, or Bear Spray (doubles as protection against animals and humans) offer a functional security blanket for your solo journeys. Make sure to keep these items readily available for split second action.

Do you have any tips to add to help keep hiker friends safe on the trail?

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I also encourage fellow Oregon-area hikers to share information on the search for Alissa – authorities are actively seeking any help on her potential whereabouts. More information can be found here.

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2 responses to “Tragedies on the Trail… And What We Need To Learn From Them

  1. I really love what you do here on the “women gone wild” side of the blog. Every year, as I see more and more diverse groups of people hit the trails, the future of hiking gets brighter. Women are the ones setting all the speed records on the big trails anyways!

    When people say that women shouldn’t go hiking alone what they are really saying is that women can’t take care of themselves. Not only is this complete BS– women are the some of the best hikers out there and there are plenty of tools for self defense that work equally well in the hands of men or women if you care about that kind of thing– but it also misses the point. Realistically its the broken leg/slip and fall/getting lost, not some big bad guy, who is going to hurt you outside. Be prepared to whatever level makes comfortable, but most the bad things that can happen outside are pretty equal opportunity.

    That being said, bad things do, rarely, happen to both men and women (probably higher numbers of men since there are more men hiking in the first place). Personally I can’t agree more on the “know your hiking buddy” point. Maybe I’m just not terribly trusting, but I feel way safer hiking solo than with some random person I’ve never met before.

    Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • Max, Thanks for the awesome comment! You’re so right, accidents like slipping and breaking a leg are not gender specific and these tips apply to both male and female; I just consider myself a female-focused blog and tend to address the ladies, first and foremost (but obviously enjoy my male readers very much as well!). Thanks again for sharing, happy hiking!!

      Liked by 1 person

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