In the space of three days, New Mexico news services posted two stories about hikers who got into trouble. Happily, both survived. As usual, I’ll break down the stories to see what hikers can learn from them.
On August 16–17, KRQE posted the story of a hiker on the La Luz Trail in the Sandia Mountains. “The hiker says she ran out of water, started feeling fatigued, and her cell phone battery was low, so she decided to call somebody and play it safe.”
When interviewed, the hiker stated, “‘Luckily, I ran into two guys and they gave me water and I felt fine, and then I was able to walk back down the rest of the trail, and I heard everyone was looking for me and I was like, ‘Oh, no.’”
Clearly, this was a minor incident. That’s because it involved some wrong decisions but also some right ones.
The wrong decisions. The hiker was on a remote, rugged trail by herself. She didn’t take enough water (in August!). She didn’t fully charge her cell phone before the hike (or if she did, she used battery-draining apps and didn’t take a portable charger).
The right decisions. The hiker didn’t stray from the trail, which is well-used, so eventually someone found her. She called for help before her situation was utterly desperate, and before her phone went dead. And the two hikers who encountered her had made right decisions: they weren’t hiking alone, and they had water to spare for an emergency.
On August 18, T. S. Last of the Albuquerque Journal reported on a more serious incident. “A hiker was rescued from the Santa Fe National Forest on Sunday after ... after injuring himself.”
“Santa Fe Fire Department Capt. Nathan Garcia said a different man, who was hiking the Windsor Trail off Hyde Park Road near the ski area with his two children, found the man in distress near a creek on Saturday....
“The next day, the rescue team was able to locate the man with the help of ... the hiker who originally discovered the injured man.”
“The man was found about three miles up the Windsor Trail, but nearly a half mile off it ... ‘He looked like he had been in the woods for a week or two.’
“The fire captain said the man was unable to walk and probably hadn’t eaten in a while, but he was able to crawl to a nearby creek to drink water.
“‘I’m not sure of the injury, but he had some kind of traumatic event that left him immobile,” Garcia said.’
The hiker who found the injured man stated, “‘He was lying beside a creek ... he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t move; he was delirious. ... “His lips were all chapped to the point they were bleeding. His tongue was swollen; he was super gaunt and skinny.”
Unlike in the first incident, the hiker made wrong decisions but no right ones, as far as I can tell from the news story. First, the injured hiker was by himself. Second, he was half a mile off trail, far enough to prevent hikers on the trail from seeing or hearing him. (Compare this with the previous incident I reviewed: the solo hiker had stayed on the trail so she was found by other hikers.) Combine those two factors with an immobilizing injury, and the hiker had all but signed his own death sentence. He was lucky to have been within crawling distance of a creek; in most of New Mexico, he would have died of thirst. As it was, he would have died of exposure had it not been the height of the summer, and he would have died of starvation if he hadn’t been found.
The common denominator for both stories is that the victims were by themselves. When I hike “alone,” it’s on well-used trails where if I’m injured and immobilized, a fellow hiker will come along in a few minutes. Also, I start with a fully charged cell phone (which I save for emergencies) and a satellite communicator. But even with those precautions, I’d much rather hike with someone else. Besides being much safer, it’s so much nicer to share the experience.