Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Travels: Safety First

I’ve either witnessed or heard of all of the below scenarios happening to people.

1. You’re hiking along the Lost Coast Trail in light rains and the streams are high but still passable. On Day one of your hike heavy rains set in and persist through the night. On day two you realize that you’re unable to go north or south because the creeks are impassable. This adds an extra day to your journey that you didn’t plan for as you wait for the streams to lower. 
2. The creek is pretty high but you decide to attempt the crossing. Half way across you slip and are soaked head to toe – along with most of your gear.
3. A wave with intense energy races much farther up the beach than you expect and you jump up onto a small rock ledge at the last moment and cling on to whatever you can grab. The wave hits and knocks your feet off the rock but you’re still holding on. You get banged up against the rocks pretty badly. You’re now soaked and have a badly injured knee.
4. You’re crossing a creek when a large wave surges up the beach and into the creek - You’re knocked down and get tumbled around between the two forces of water. You get a good dose of reality as you're now soaked and scraped on your arms and legs badly. 

5. Gale force gusts of wind tear the rain-fly off of your tent, leaving you out in the rain and forcing you to hike out in the night - if tides permit - miserable, wet and dangerously cold. 

Several weeks ago we received a call from a concerned mother  - her daughter was out on the Lost Coast Trail, solo, and was somewhere on the beach apparently trapped from the cliffs and the ocean. The hiker had a satellite phone with her that she was using to make frantic calls to her mother. Thankfully, she eventually made it out of the impassible zone and to the safety of Randall Creek area. By this time it was well after sundown and she was wet and cold from the ocean. She had already made the wise decision to remove her wet clothing and get into her sleeping bag. To further help prevent hypothermia, I advised her to eat any available food she had and to heat water for a warm drink; she could also fill her water bottle with the hot water and keep it in her sleeping bag with her.

The young lady was unnerved and worried about how and if she should continue with her journey.
She had come a long way for this trip and had been planning and looking forward to it for a long time – although she was shaken up from the day’s events, she didn’t want to quit.

I admire the perseverance and courage. However, I encouraged her to head back the way she came – to the Mattole Trailhead. My reason being that 1. The conditions were not conducive to traveling on the coast that week due to higher than average tides and large ocean swells. 2. She already knows what to expect if she were to go back the way she came 3. The section of trail south of Miller Flat, especially near Shipman Creek, can be very hazardous to travel 4. She is traveling alone, which is even more dangerous for a novice backpacker.

Understandably, she was concerned about how she would get back to her vehicle if she turned around (she parked at Black Sands Beach Trailhead where took a shuttle up to Mattole). I reminded her that she had a satellite phone and I encouraged her to call the shuttle company as soon as possible to explain the situation. She was also very concerned about not “completing” the trail.

It’s this tunnel vision that people sometimes get into  - adventurers of all sorts - that lead them down the path of no return.

The most important goal of any journey is getting home safely – nothing is more important than that. Don’t think of a trip as a failure just because you didn’t complete the trail – rethink what your goals of the trip are and what benefits and experiences you hope to come home with. There are no rules that say you can’t redesign those goals as you go.

Flexibility is key. See the problems and think of solutions – don’t just trudge on through the hazards just because you made up your mind long ago that that is what you were going to do or because you have to keep to a schedule. What’s more important: getting home a day late or getting home in one piece and alive?

Have a backup plan. 
What if you get to a creek and it's too high to cross?
What if everything in your pack gets wet? 
Plan for the worst case scenario and do the necessary preparation to avoid getting yourself in those situations to begin with. 

For more about the specifics of traveling in the King Range, and the Lost Coast Trail, during the winter:

First, read this blog post for lots of information about how to travel through the "impassable at high tide" sections and a real story about a group backpacking on the Lost Coast who ran into serious trouble (learn from their mistakes!)

Second, be sure to read Winter Conditions: Plan for the worst, hope for the best for specific information about planning a trip in the King Range during the winter. Also check this post - scroll about half way down for more tips on winter travel in the King Range

The creeks are deep and difficult to cross.
The waves can be huge and make passage on the narrow sections of coast very hazardous. 
Conditions change rapidly on the Lost Coast. 

Look up, look around and pay attention! 

Get yourself out of the situations you put yourself into! 

Send me a message or give me a call with any questions. 

Your Wilderness Ranger,

p.s. It's best to give me at least a week to get back to you. 

No comments:

Post a Comment