Stuck on Band-Aid

30 11 2009

Poor Kenny.  For those who have never seen South Park, or who have been living in a cave on Mars with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears for the last twelve years, Kenny McCormick is the unfortunate member of the South Park gang who, in nearly every episode in the first five seasons, dies a terrible death.  So, as I was saying, poor Kenny.

Kenny is a really unlucky little kid.  Kenny dies in just about every way imaginable.  He is electrocuted, crushed by a tree, torn apart by an angry mob, gored by a bull, eaten by fish…and so on and so on.  If there is a chance, however small, that someone could be injured while participating in any activity, Kenny will beat the odds and become the fatal statistic.

I’m glad I’m not as unlucky as Kenny, and I hope that you’re not either.   If you are, there’s not much that can be done about it.  But if you’re a little more average, it pays to take some precautions while engaged in activities that have a higher risk of injury than sitting around on your sofa watching South Park.

That brings us to Rule No. 6:

First Aid Kits Are Non-Negotiable.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Bring a first aid kit when you hike and camp.  Bring it when you’re solo, bring it when you’re in a group, just bring it.  Bring it even when you think that the hike should be a piece of cake, especially if you’ve never done it before and don’t know from personal experience how easy it will be.  After all, we know what can happen when you set out on what you think is a “simple” hike in unknown territory. 

I don’t want to hear any excuses out of you.  A while ago, I discussed what should go into a first-aid kit in some detail.  You don’t have to put much work into getting one together, however, because ready-made kits are available for your (inexpensive) purchase.  First aid kits come in all sizes (mine weighs half a pound) and so the minor extra weight is worth the vast benefits of carrying one.

You should also learn how to use your first aid kit.  Having one won’t help in an emergency if you’re sitting there trying to figure out what a lancet is or how to operate your snake-bite suction device.  Read the instructions in advance.  Buy a first aid manual and study it (they make compact ones that you can bring with you, and some ready-made kits actually come with them).  You can even take a first aid course.

At the end of the day, a first aid kit, and knowledge of how to use it, can help you avoid the fate that always, always, seemed to befall poor Kenny.  Those bastards.

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 11 2009

Over on Go Girl, I talk a little about what I’m thankful for.

Click here to find out!

Photo Thanksgiving

25 11 2009

Doesn’t have the same ring as Photo Friday, does it?  Well, I’m off for the holiday (as this posts, I’m in the air somewhere over Akron…ah, the wonders of scheduling posts…), so I’m posting a photo for your enjoyment.

That’s Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah.  Amazing, right?  You have no idea until you hike there.  Do it.  You won’t be sorry.

See you Monday, and Happy Thanksgiving!!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

I’ll Walk It Off Later

23 11 2009

I never worry about diets.  The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond. 

~Mae West

If only that were true.  What would it be like, I wonder, to move through life without ever having to worry about dieting?  I’ll never know, but I do know one thing: when I’m hiking is the one time that I truly don’t worry about diets.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about food and hiking, including some suggested basics for a shorter and a longer hike.  Then, last week, I wrote a post about how important it is — it’s one of the “Rules,” in fact — to pack enough food when you hike so that you don’t find yourself weakened from the exertion without proper replenishment.  And here we are again.  So this food thing must be important.  The good news is that there’s a Good Stuff side to the Rule about food:

There’s No Dieting on the Trail

Okay, so it doesn’t have the same zip as “There’s no crying in baseball,” but let’s celebrate this.  How often do you justify an indulgent meal/snack by promising yourself that you’ll spend an extra hour in the gym to make up for your transgression?  (Too often, I bet.  Don’t worry, I’m not judging.)  Well, one of the great benefits of hiking — besides getting fresh air, and taking the time to slow down and notice the world around you — is that it’s great exercise.

I did some very scientific* research by looking up “hiking calories burned” on the Interwebs, and got a range of calories burned per sixty minutes of hiking, from as low as 340 calories to as high as 530.  The broad range is likely because no two hikes are the same; some require constant climbing and are highly strenuous.  Others are only a little more challenging than a walk in the park (and we know that a walk in the park is like…well, a walk in the park).

But the exact numbers don’t really matter.  Even at 340 calories, that’s a lot of calories.  And remember, that’s just one hour of hiking.  If you go on a day hike and are out on the trail for six hours or more, you’re probably burning well over your normal calorie intake for the day just in those six hours.

Therefore, when I’m hiking, I really don’t worry too much about how many calories I’m eating.  I try to pack a balanced array of food, and some extra energy bars, and I eat when I’m hungry, which tends to be at fairly regular and frequent intervals.

So when you’re on the trail, make like Mae West and don’t worry about dieting…but carrot sticks are a pretty good hiking snack.

*Not at all scientific.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Photo Friday

20 11 2009

This week, through the magic of photography, I take you to Badlands National Park, in South Dakota.  Some think of western South Dakota as nothing more than home to the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Wind and Jewel Caves, and Wall Drug.  (Note: Detect sarcasm when I say “nothing more.”)  In my opinion, a visit to this beautiful area of the country is not complete without exploring the Badlands, which are like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

For example, here is a view from the “Door” Trail:

No, that’s not the surface of the moon with some newfangled atmosphere created by NASA.  It’s the Badlands.  It’s actually a trail, although I can understand if you’re squinting at it and asking, “But how do you know where to walk?”  I can answer that for you.  There are these teeny little flags.  You look for them, like you would look for cairns.  They are difficult to spot.  I learned the hard way that you never want to leave one without finding the next, because there are gaps and chasms (not too deep, but deep enough that you’d have trouble getting up out of them without assistance or being a spider-person) between these crags, and it’s sort of like solving a maze.  On more than one occasion, I ended up at a dead end and had to pick my way back to the last flag and try again.

The slightly longer, more varied trail is the “Notch” trail, and I photographed one particularly interesting spot:

Yes, I’m terrified of heights.  Yes, I climbed that ladder.


Happy Friday, everyone!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Thoughts on the Coyote Attack on Singer Taylor Mitchell

18 11 2009

I have been thinking about this post for some time.  Since October 29, in fact, when I first heard the news about Taylor Mitchell.  Taylor, a 19-year-old up-and-coming Canadian folk singer, died of injuries sustained in a coyote attack while hiking alone in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

This is a terrible story.  It’s terrible, in the first place, because it’s a tragedy.  The death of young, talented people always shocks the core, in part because it feels like such a waste.  When that death is caused by something outside of the control of the victim, when the victim wasn’t doing anything particularly wrong (wrong such as knowingly abusing narcotics, or driving while intoxicated), the needlessness shocks further.

But this story is terrible for a second reason as well.  It’s terrible because it will be easy for people to conclude, based on this story, that a) hiking alone is dangerous; and b) hikers, particularly solo hikers, are in danger of being attacked by coyotes at every turn.

Neither of these conclusions is true, nor are they supported by Taylor’s story.

First, Taylor wasn’t really hiking alone.  Sure, she was hiking solo, meaning that she was hiking without a personal companion or companions.  However, she was by no means in some deserted wilderness where she was the only human being around for miles.  According to news reports, other hikers nearby heard her screams and called for help, and this happened quickly enough that when officers reached the scene they were able to shoot and scare off the coyotes.  Taylor was critically injured, but was airlifted out of the park for medical attention.¹

by Ericbodden, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Had Taylor really been alone, help would not have reached her so quickly.  We don’t know how the situation would have been different if she had had a hiking companion with her — would the coyotes not have attacked?  would her companion have been able to scare or fight them off? — but this was certainly not a situation in which she was in an area devoid of other people.   This was the Skyline Trail, a popular, relatively level ~6 mile trail that includes a wooden boardwalk.  In other words, she had chosen her hike precisely the way I would have, looking for areas in which the likelihood of running across other hikers was high.

Oddly, it is perhaps because the park — and the trail — are so popular that this attack occurred at all.  Fatal coyote attacks on humans are rare.    Generally, coyotes fear humans.  Since 1970, when coyotes were introduced to Cape Breton Highlands, there have been very few reported coyote attacks, and none of them fatal.  Across the United States, the largest number of reported coyote attacks take place in suburban neighborhoods, where coyotes have become accustomed to humans and found the ease with which they can scavenge for food.  In Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where hunting and trapping is not allowed, coyotes may similarly see humans as a source of food and not as something to fear.²

In light of this possibility, what is a hiker to do?  Because populated areas might have a higher likelihood of a coyote attack, should you then choose deserted areas?  Clearly not.  The chances of injuring yourself in some other way are far greater than being attacked by a coyote, and hiking in more populated areas increases the likelihood someone will come along and be able to help you out.

We’ll never know what happened on that trail, and what made the coyotes attack.  Rather than jumping to unfounded conclusions, let’s stick with what we know: education, preparation, and using your head.  Learn how to properly respond to wildlife you meet on the trail.  Don’t provoke wildlife, don’t feed wildlife.  Tell someone where you’re going.  Be prepared.  Beyond that, freak incidents may happen, but you’ve done all you can to avoid them.

Over here at Her Side, our hearts go out to Taylor’s family and friends.

1. Gillies, Rob.  “Taylor Mitchell, Singer-Songwriter, Killed By Coyotes On Hike in National Park,”, retrieved November 17, 2009.

2. Boujaily, Phil.  “Special Report: On Coyote Attacks and the Death of Canadian Folk Singer Taylor Mitchell,”, retrieved November 17, 2009.

You’re Not Ghandi

16 11 2009
Diamond Head

Diamond Head, Oahu

My grandfather, “Pépère,” is eighty-three years old.  We call him “Pep” for short, and the nickname suits him…he’s in better shape than I am.  A couple of years ago (and I do mean only a couple), while vacationing in Hawaii, he climbed Diamond Head on Oahu.  Now, Pep is a smart guy, with lots of common sense and life experience.  On that climb, however, he made a very common mistake for a novice (or overconfident, as the case may be) hiker: he didn’t bring enough water.

It all worked out okay for Pep, don’t worry.  He made it to the top, where some nice folks commented that he was by far the most senior person they’ve seen climb the volcanic crater.  But when he tells the story now, he puts a lot of emphasis on how hot he was and how he regretted not bringing more than a teeny little water bottle. 

You see, kids, he didn’t follow Rule No. 5:

You’re Not Ghandi: Pack Food and Water

WaterNot packing enough food and water is a common mistake, even for experienced hikers.  It’s very easy to over- and underestimate your water needs.  If you’re new to hiking, you don’t have any frame of reference as to how much water you’ll need.  If you’re new to hiking in a particular climate, particularly one that is hotter/drier/more humid than you’re used to, you can’t use past experience to guide you.  If  you are an experienced hiker, you can sometimes get overconfident (which usually leads to not packing enough water instead of packing too much).

FoodThe same is true for food.  As an experienced hiker, there are times that I just want to head out on the trail and not take the time to pack anything to eat.  Having found myself hungry on the trail, however, shaky from exertion and wishing I had at least a Powerbar, I know better.  Remember that while hiking you’re going to use up more energy than while sitting around — and maybe even more than your normal workout routine.  You won’t usually find (thank heavens) a convenience store at the top of the mountain where you can replenish your supplies, so plan ahead. 

Wait, wait.  I know you have questions.  Go ahead.

But, Her Side, I don’t want to have to carry too much!  Water is heavy!

Sure, but being dehydrated is worse than carrying a little extra weight.  And it will get lighter as you go (and drink it), or you can empty some out if it becomes clear you’ve overestimated your needs.

I’m only going to a hike for a couple of hours.  Do I really need food?

Yes.  You should have something, even if it’s just some fruit or a couple of granola bars.  After all, look what could happen on a simple hike.

Will I ever be able to refill my water while on the trail?

Sometimes.  On the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, for example, there are water stations at intervals of the trail into the canyon (which is a darned good thing because it is HOT there).  If you have a water purification system, you might be able to refill from nature (of course, that requires packing the water purification system, so…).  You can usually find out whether there are opportunities to refill before you go.  However, I wouldn’t skimp on the water anyway, just in case.

I was thinking if I didn’t drink too much water, I wouldn’t have to use the facilities — or lack thereof — while on the trail.  I think peeing in the woods is icky.

Get over it.  This isn’t a reason not to bring water or keep yourself hydrated.  Stop being such a wimp.

Fine, I’ll pack extra water.  But how do I know how much I need?  And is there an easier way to carry it?

There’s no mathematical formula that I can give you to tell you how much water to bring.  I can tell you that it’s always better to have too much than to not have enough.  Don’t despair, however.  You can, in fact, make it easier to carry.  Get yourself a hydration backpack.  Those things hold liters of water (usually plenty for a day hike, even in the heat), and aren’t difficult to carry because the backpack sits comfortable on your back.

Now, if only I had written this post before Pep climbed Diamond Head…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Photo Friday

13 11 2009

For the second week in a row, Friday got here before I was ready for it.  But since I kind of like the idea of posting a photo every so often, and Friday is as good a day as any, I think I’ll keep this up for a while.

Last week, I gave you a scene from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  This week, I present to you a scene from Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona.  Yes, I was alone on this hike.  Yes, I am standing in the stream to take this photo.  Yes, it’s beautiful.  And yes, I got lost more than once due to stream crossings — but always managed to find my way back to the trail.

Oak Creek Canyon

Happy Weekend!

* By the way, I got some grief last week for lack of clarity in my comma placement.  So let’s be clear.  I didn’t call this post (or last week’s) “Foto Friday.”  The reason I didn’t is that one of my pet peeves is the intentional mispelling of words to make them “look cute.”  It doesn’t look cute, it looks dumb.  So be forewarned, if you name your private campground “Katie’s Kampsite,”  I am likely to cringe and look for somewhere else to stay.

Go Girl: Women on the Run

12 11 2009

Today over at Go Girl Magazine, I write about trying not to fall into Bryce Canyon while on a mule ride, meeting a cute young gentleman, and being distracted from fear.

Click here to read it!

There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

11 11 2009


I have a case of the “I told you so’s.”

As I mentioned on Monday, this past weekend I was up in Vermont with some friends.  Two of my friends decided to go hiking.  As much as I wanted to go with them, when the choice came down to hiking or spending the afternoon with my sharp-as-a-tack and deathly sarcastic fifteen-year-old nephew and my four-and-a-half-year-old niece who is cuter than any button I’ve ever seen, my path was clear.

So the other two headed out alone.  (They both have names that start with “A” so let’s call them A and B for simplicity’s sake.)  Well, not alone, since they were together.  This was not a solo hiking expedition, and that part is important to the story.  A and B left around twelve-thirty and set out to hike the Little Rock Pond loop (trailhead in Danby, VT), which is an easy, 4-5 mile hike that runs along the A.T. and the Long Trail and loops around Little Rock Pond before returning on the same trail.  Before leaving, they packed a lunch, strapped on their hiking boots, shouldered their backpacks, and we all had a discussion that it would start getting dark around four-thirty, and they would be back for dinner.  We estimated it would take them ~2-3 hours to complete the hike, though none of us had done it before.

By five-thirty, it was full-on night-time, and they had not returned.  Dinner was cooking, and we all got a little concerned about their whereabouts.  I called A’s cell phone (I didn’t have B’s number), and it went straight to voicemail.  At that point, we figured that two scenarios were likely: (1) they finished the hike early and went into town, losing track of time, and A’s phone died; or (2) they got lost on the mountain.

Now, the second one was concerning, but it didn’t have to mean panic.  It was a warm night (particularly for early November in Vermont).  A is a very experienced hiker, with a good head on his shoulders (not to imply that B doesn’t have a good head on her shoulders, but you know what I mean).  The only member of our group who knew anything about the trail noted that, if they weren’t paying attention they could have missed the loop around the lake and continued north on the A.T. which would eventually spit them out in Wallingford.

By six-thirty, we had decided to mount up and investigate.  I volunteered to drive out to the trailhead and check for their car.  If it was gone, we’d know they were off somewhere.  If it was there, then we’d deal with the next steps and get them home safely.  Just as we were about to leave, they drove in.

It turned out that they had, in fact, missed the loop around the pond and continued north on the A.T.  Eventually they realized their mistake, but not until they had added significant distance and time onto their hike.  On the way back, they found themselves on the wrong part of the loop, and had to backtrack a short ways again to find the right trail.  They also had a bad moment when they were concerned they weren’t on a trail anymore at all.  To make matters more difficult, the sun set, and they hiked for a good long while in the dark to finally, blessedly, make it back to the trailhead.  I hadn’t been able to reach them by phone because A had used a GPS app on his phone that had drained the battery quickly, and B had left her phone in the car.

We were very glad to see them, listened with interest to their story, and were glad it wasn’t more harrowing (no injuries, bad weather, animal encounters, etc.).  After telling the tale, A rolled his eyes and said, “I feel like such an amateur.

Hearing the adventure, I couldn’t help but think about what I have been writing on this blog.  I have been saying that solo hiking is only more dangerous than hiking in groups because you have only yourself to rely on, since most anything that could happen to a solo hiker could happen to non-solos.  I have been outlining basic rules for safety, must-have equipment, and always always always emphasizing the importance of using your head.

It turns out, I’m right.  (There’s the “I told you so.”)  I’d like to thank A and B for providing this real-life, illustrative example so that I could write about it today.

Here’s what A and B did right:

  • They dressed warmly and in layers (November hiking in VT, remember?)
  • They wore appropriate clothing and footwear
  • They packed a flashlight
  • They consulted a map before they left to get an idea of the direction they should be traveling and how long it should take
  • They asked someone who was generally familiar with hike for some information
  • They told people where they were going, and when they expected to be back
  • They made themselves aware of when the sun would set
  • They kept their heads and acted without panic (or much of it) to get themselves out of trouble

Here’s what they did wrong:

  • They didn’t pack extra food
  • They didn’t have a first aid kit
  • They didn’t pay enough attention to the trail itself to notice that they ended up on the wrong one
  • They didn’t place enough emphasis on how much time they had before it would get dark
  • They left a phone in the car, and let the other one drain of battery
  • They were overconfident about the ease of the hike, which lowered their vigilance

This last one is perhaps the most important of all.  This list is not meant to be overly crtitical.  Had I decided to go with them, might I have shrugged at extra precautions?  Maybe.  Like I said, A is an experienced hiker.  He’s an experienced solo hiker.  He’s an experienced de facto trail leader.  This should have been a simple hike: not too long, not too difficult, pretty clearly marked.  In total, not much went wrong.  No one got hurt.  No one was exposed to the elements.  They didn’t actually get lost in the woods, because they were always on a trail, even if it wasn’t the right trail.  And yet, because of a couple of wrong turns, the hike took much longer than intended and left them in darkness.  As simple (and as quick) as that, the easy hike turned into something difficult and harrowing.

The truth of the matter is that A and B had never been on this hike before.  It was unfamiliar.  Even if it was billed as an easy hike, they should have considered the unknown factor when preparing, and not made any assumptions.

And that’s why preparation, precautions, and using your head, both before and during your hike are the key to staying safe, whether you’re hiking alone or with companions.

Yeah, I’m gonna say it again.

I told you so.

Ed: A tells me that he actually estimated the hike would take them 4 hours, not 2-3.  That brings into relief that, starting the hike after 12:30, with darkness falling around 4:30, on a 4 hour hike, is cutting it too close even if you know the trail. 

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.