One of the early lessons I learned about hiking is that you as the hiker are completely at the mercy of nature. Even on established trails it is very easy to fall, seemingly out of nowhere, then suddenly you’re getting face-to-face time with bare earth. In the backcountry the risk is somewhat higher, but not something to worry about because with walking comes the inherent risk of tripping. Lately I’ve been using my spare time to reflect back on the multitude of close calls I’ve had in the past year alone. There was one time when I fell while hiking up a steep slope, and may have continued falling (I might still be falling) had Joe not been there to prevent disaster. Another time up in Red Rock I tried to climb Mt. Wilson; Mt. Wilson, we can all be sure, got the best of me. I stumbled out of that cavernous experience bruised and battered, but grateful to still be among the living. There have been countless moments when I have thought, “I hope nothing goes wrong here; it’s a long way down”, or “I’ll be in some serious trouble if that rock isn’t as sturdy as it looks.” Going out prepared is key, but there are any number of unexpected and unforeseeable problems out there that no amount of preparation could prevent. Case in point: mountain lions. They come with the territory and their efforts, however rare, are difficult to thwart (stare them in the eyes and don’t run away—advice not likely to be applied).
When I’m out alone in the wilderness there are a few things that I am ever cognizant of—remaining sunlight, remaining water, and remaining distance. For the most part everything else is location specific or common sense, like where to step. I usually don’t put a lot of thought into that, just trust my feet to carry me as they always have. On Monday I stepped on a rock which held on to my right foot just long enough to send my body sprawling. My foot, in the process, twisted in defiance until it broke free from the rock trap. It was a very slow and painful hike back, and only once I got to the car did I take off my boot to assess the damage. Needless to say, I am on strict doctor’s orders to stay home from work, keep my foot elevated at all times, and under no circumstances am I to put weight on it. Like I said, plenty of time to reflect back on all those previous close calls.