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When a Beautiful Hike Can Go Wrong

Posted May 14 2009 4:32pm

I wouldn't say we are avid hikers or adventurers but we do like to hike as a family. That usually limits us to easy to moderate hikes with moderate gains in altitude. The longest hike we have done is a 5.4 mile hike along The Loop in Rocky Mountain Park. We always take the necessary precautions:

  • we carry enough water for each person
  • we wear sunscreen
  • we carry or use insect repellent
  • we carry several layers of clothing, including one that is water resistant, as the weather can change in a heartbeat in the Rockies
  • we carry walkie-talkies just in case. Most of the time, my daughter uses these to sing to everyone else who might be on the same frequency.
  • we do not let our daughter walk alone ahead or behind us - we're usually in mountain lion territory.
  • we carry energy bars or fruit leather on short hikes. On slightly longer hikes, I carry boiled eggs - it's the only time I eat boiled egg yolk - and sandwiches.
  • the hikes we go on have well-marked trails so we don't need a map but we carry the one the Park gives us anyway.
  • we stay on the marked trail.
  • we don't pick wildflowers or mushrooms or any plants.
  • we're keyed into the weather and if we see a thunderstorm approaching - a very common afternoon phenomenon around here - we pack up and head for safety.
  • we do not hike in the dark, except at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, where the hike back is well after sunset and partly in the dark.
  • we carry flashlights.
Is it possible then that anything could go wrong? It can and it did. On a very easy hike - you could even call it a stroll. You see, there were a couple of important things that are not covered in the list above and add to it a sense of complacency.

Like out of a dream, the kind that suddenly goes bad without any warning
We were hiking in Yosemite National Park over spring break late last month. The hike or stroll in question was around Mirror Lake, a shallow pool of water along Tenaya Creek that has fabulous reflections during spring. As the season progresses, the water dries up to reveal sandy beach-like areas along the creek. People walk off the trail and onto these beaches for a picnic.


I was so enamored by the reflections that I started to lag behind as we walked towards the beach. Usually, we are always within earshot and sight of one another and no matter what, my daughter is never alone. Soon, my family had gone so far ahead that I couldn't see them. When I reached what looked like the access point to the sandy area, I looked out and couldn't see them. I saw other picnickers frolicking away instead. Irritated, I continued along the trail thinking that it was rather typical of my significant other to keep going. He is known for pushing us further and further on every hike. Hmmph. He might have waited for me to catch up!

As I hiked on alone, the forest started getting thicker and there was no-one ahead of me or behind me. I looked in my backpack and oops! I'd forgotten the walkie-talkie in the car. There was no way I could ping them and my cellphone was also in the car - not that it would have helped any as T-Mobile has no reception, whatsoever, in the Park. AT&T does have a signal in some parts of the Yosemite Valley. After about 20 minutes, the terrain started becoming rockier and I decided to turn back. A short while later, I met a couple who were planning to hike to the head of the creek and they promised me that they would let my family know that I had turned back, if they ran into them. The couple then advised me to stay put at the trailhead, which was 1.2 miles from the parking lot, because my family would have to go past the trailhead to get back to the car.

I returned and waited at the trailhead. And waited and waited and waited. It was nearing sunset and becoming progressively colder. After an hour of fuming, I decided to give them another half hour before going in search of a ranger. Luckily, I didn't have to because two very worried and very angry persons showed up soon thereafter.

They had not walked on ahead along the creek like I had assumed. Instead, they were trying to get back onto the trail from the sandy beach and could not be seen from the trail. When they got back onto the trail, they assumed that I was still walking towards them and so walked back. When they didn't find me along the trail, they walked back to the car. [3.4 miles total at this point] They had tried calling me on the walkie-talkie and got no answer and realized why when they saw the walkie-talkie in the car. That was my first Oops! Since it was an easy hike, I was not careful about ensuring that I had my walkie-talkie with me.

They found the second set of car keys also in the car. That was my second Oops! Always keep a second set of car keys with another person in the group so that if you split up, the other group has access to the car, especially if you traveled in one car. Of course, if both keys end up with the group that gets lost, not much can be done!

Since they now knew why they could not contact me, their irritation levels were higher than their concern levels. They walked back to the trailhead [4.6 miles total at this point] and found me. This was my third Oops! If you get separated from your group, head back to where you left the car or always have a place that you will meet at and, also agree upon the latest time that everyone should expect to reconvene in such an event. We never expected to lose each other and while it seemed practical to me to wait at the trailhead, it wasn't for several reasons. The trailhead was a short loop and returning hikers usually take the shorter route out to road that leads to the parking lot. Not that it mattered, in this case, because when I reached the trailhead, they had already gone past it on their way to the parking lot! Also, I would have been exposed to the elements at the trailhead had there been a storm. Another point to consider: discuss how long each party should wait before going in search of help.

After taking turns to vent, we walked back to the car together and when we reached the parking lot, two out of three of us had walked 5.8 miles of which 2.4 miles was completely unnecessary and could have been avoided easily.

So learn a lesson from our experience where I made several basic mistakes on a very easy hike, despite having hiked for so many years.

This post was written by Manisha

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