[Originally published on 15 August, 2012]
Before specific details of what happened start fading or getting mixed up in my memory, I’ll put down some thoughts trying to analyze what happened from a hiker’s perspective.
A.- MISTAKES. From clear to less clear:
1.- Should have carried a cell phone. OK- my Spanish cell won’t work here in the US, but I should have been less lazy about doing whatever necessary to take one along. Here I was influenced by talk in forums (“leave your cell at home”; “no reception anyway” and so on), but hey, there just ain’t no good reason not to carry a cell phone with you and turn it on when needed.
Another issue is how much it would have helped. Maybe the rescue party would have tried making it up the mountain in the evening and, given their little knowledge of the terrain, unnecessary risks might have been assumed. This is of course speculation. On the other hand, the fracture might easily have been an open one, in which case I would have been more at loss and…..yes, as a rule of thumb, not carrying a cell-phone is a huge mistake.
2.- Should have worn heavy duty high-ankle hiking boots, not trail runners. This is perhaps the most stupid of my mistakes. My ASOLO vibram sole boots died last season, and I’ve been experimenting with my Salomon trail-running gore-tex shoes. Notwithstanding this accident, I’d say that I generally missed better grip on slippery terrain (I’ll swear by vibram from now on) and that, while trail runners are great for day-hikes on most terrain, at least for me they’re not for long distance hiking with heavy packs.
Before the hike, I thought I’d test out the Salomon’s on the Long Trail – only I realized the LT (especially this section) is no trail to do experiments on.
3.- Should have stayed at the previous camp for the night instead of pushing on, especially when heavy rain was due. My first thoughts on this were that this was not an especially serious error, considering that I’d made Hazen’s at 2:20 and felt that 6 hrs there before sleep would bore me to death. However
a) Had I stopped there I would have avoided all rain on both days and hiked all the tough sections in reasonably dry conditions. Of course I couldn’t have known, but it is quite common in mountains that stormy rainshowers only start late afternoon or evening.
b) Rest. Even if I was doing OK physically, hiking on the LT requires a lot of focusing and mental effort. And a lot of mental effort on the tricky sections inevitably leads to less attention in the “easier” ones, which is where I had the accident.
c) It was only my second day hiking. It would have made sense to keep mileage to 9 instead of 15. Later on, on less demanding days with better conditions, it would be easier to aim for 15+ mile days.
4.- Perhaps most controversially,I shouldn’t have hiked on my own. (This is basically what I get told all the time by my dad, but then again he’s the type who’ll always think of risk over enjoyment).
Who knows. I do a lot of outdoors activities solo, more often than not because I don’t have enough friends/acquaintances who either like this sort of stuff or have the opportunities I have – mainly time off. Still, I’m far from the reckless type: If I went to the LT on my own, it’s because I had the assurance there’d be a lot of other hikers on it. I’d never hike something more remote on my own, for instance, the Cohos trail in NH.
Still I acknowledge there’s some lesson to be obtained here. The fall could have been less lucky, leading to an open fracture or even losing consciousness. Then what? So, hmmm, I’m not sure I’ll do this kind of solo hiking again.
B.- ON THE POSITIVE SIDE
1.- Investing in an inexpensive lightweight 1-person tent, even while planning on using the lodges and shelters on the way. I know lots of people carry tarps, or nothing, but a proper tent will keep you dry and make you feel secure. Happily, I had practiced putting a tent up a couple of days before.
2.- Having saved some water. Admittedly this was for a subsequent climb, but the temptation to drink it all was strong and I was smart enough not to.
3.- Keeping calm. I found this fairly straight-forward, provided I focused on each step at a time. Example: I felt reasonably confident calculating at what time I might be found, but then I’d move on to wondering whether the hikers who found me would have a cell phone or not and then stress and anxiety would kick in. Same with the rescue, or the medical care…or even now, thinking about the near future and the challenges it holds.
Forget it. It turns out that tackling problems one by one works best, especially from a psychological point of view.
(I’m afraid this skill will come in handy for the next few weeks/months)
And that’s about it. Hope this can help anybody anytime and for any purposes. Again, thank you reader for bearing with me.