Sunday, June 18, 2017

"The School of Hard Knocks"...a hike gone bad.

Some of the best lessons in life are the tough ones...."The School of Hard Knocks" as some folks call it. I had a hike yesterday that became dangerous, and I have been pondering it and thought I would share some learning points. To begin, here is what happened:

I had attended a public hike put on by a local organization. I was familiar with the trail, Reservoir Canyon, and have hiked it before. Last time was I think 2013, so I was 5 years younger. The group was good sized, maybe 18 people of varying ages, and it went well. We hiked, I don't know, maybe 2-2.5 miles to the Hermit's Cabin and the group took a break and some photos.

Lord's Candle - Yucca
I had noted an elderly couple that wasn't taking sufficient water. They had a pack with two 1 Liter bottles, one for each of them, in side pockets, no apparent bladder. They appeared to be struggling. It was a very warm day, and getting hotter. I would guess upper 80's at that time. When we got to the Hermit's Cabin I advised the hike leader of my observation and it seems the whole group was ready to go back down.

I was humping a 17# pack, 4 lbs. of which was water, and had a full hydration bladder in my pack when I started the hike. Halfway through, I still had a good amount in it and a quart USGI canteen reserve, but I was about to learn it wasn't going to be enough.

The hike leader decided it was too hot to do the loop and announced we'd be going back down the way we'd came, but that people were free to go on if they wished. I chatted up another hiker, an athletic younger male, and he seemed interested and had familiarity with the trail from having done some work on it. Three women indicated they wished to go along...a young woman in her 20's and 2 middle-aged women. We were agreed to do the full loop, which I think was 6 miles, not sure.

The hike leader queried us if everyone had or needed extra water. I felt I had enough for my needs but was unaware of the others water on hand.

We splintered off and kept going up the trail. It was going to top out at 1300', was steep inclined, rough, rock strewn, and sun exposed. It made for very hard hiking and I started pulling heavy on my bladder. I was completely surprised when it went dry well before the top.

At that time, the group had spread out. Two younger, fitter persons had gone on ahead. Another woman was between us and I was hiking with a trim, athletic, woman about my age, and she was a medical professional. It was taking forever to get to the top. I don't know, maybe she sensed I was struggling. It was then I realized I felt myself running out of blood sugar. I'd had a banana and a roll before the hike...not enough for the arduous hiking I was doing.

I tried to eat some power bars. I could barely eat them; my mouth was dry and I was mildly nauseous, but forced myself to keep chewing and they gave me a boost and I avoided blacking out, which was definitely coming on. I know this because it has happened to me twice before during hard exertion and I recognize it. Not diabetic...just not taking enough calories to sustain the activity.

The view from the top

We reached the top and enjoyed a small break and some cooler breezes for a little while. We started down and on the downhill, which was equally hot and rough, some of our group began to run out of water. I think the three women hikers only had small half liter bottles.

The water in my steel canteen had been heated by the sun and was like hot tea. One of the women, heavyset and middle-aged, kept asking me to share my water and I was shocked when she passed my canteen back empty...she'd drained it...I was now out of water with at least 2 miles of hard trail to go.

The last 1-2 miles was horrible. I was so dehydrated I had stopped sweating and was getting chills. I realized I was probably heading for heat exhaustion....all I could think of was GET TO THE CREEK! Just kept putting one foot IFO the other.

By this time, the medical woman and other man were up behind me...I caught glimpses of them for awhile and then never saw them again. The younger woman had run on ahead, and the other woman that had drained my canteen was somewhat behind me.

I literally had started to stumble and trip down the trail, Several times I had to negotiate tricky rocks and went slow because I knew I could get hurt if not very careful. Finally I broke into the canyon's Oak cover and could hear the stream in the distance and knew I was all right.

FRONTIER Survival Straw

When I got near the stream I dropped my pack, broke out the FRONTIER survival straw I carry and sat in the stream and began dumping water over my head. I cared not a whit about getting soaked. Then I started drinking through the survival straw until I was sick of water. It wouldn't fit my canteens small mouth, and I didn't have a cup, so I cupped my hand and drank from it.

After about 5-10 minutes I became aware the younger woman was sitting below the falls just watching me. She appeared amused and I have to admit, I probably was a funny sight sitting clothed in the stream dumping water on myself. More's the point, I was so confused my situational awareness had crapped out.

The woman that drained my canteen came in behind me and I think she might've drank from the stream, but not sure. The three of us waited at the falls but the other two of our group never showed. I had last seen them behind me, moving pretty slow. We waited for an hour but they never appeared. I was concerned but had seen both with cell phones and service was good so I was not too worried, knowing they could call for help.

I called a friend on the local Search & Rescue team and he notified the SAR on-call coordinator, who called me direct. I explained the circs and he said check the p-lot, thinking they might've skirted around us. We did and they were not there. I notified him and he suggested I call SLOSO Dispatch and they would do a call-out, and they could request a CHP fly-over. I said I would first call the hike leader whom I knew had a roster with phone numbers and could check on the overdue hikers.

Tough terrain

At that point, the bizarre happened and I dropped my cellphone and broke it when I needed it most. Unable to communicate, I went home and e-mailed the hike leader who responded and made contact with the 2 hikers and advised me they'd made it down the mountain safely, to my great relief.
This was the first time I've ever run completely out of water on a hike and it was a real horrible learning experience. Learning points?

1.) Eat sufficient calories before a hike; take additional calories along the are burning calories whether you feel it or not. You will when you "hit the wall" and by then it is too late.

2.) Don't underestimate heat. It can really sneak up and surprise you.

3.) Don't overestimate your abilities as a hiker. Nature is a bigger badass than you will ever be.

4.) Electrolyte beans would've been very handy to have. Pretty sure my heart was working harder pumping sludgy blood as my body robbed my bloodstream for water.

5.) Accept/realize bad things can happen even on a front country don't have to be in the sticks to become incapacitated

6.) Make sure the people you are hiking with have more than adequate water for their needs. I know the other male was providing water from his bladder and last I knew he was down to half a liter.

7.) Have names/phone numbers for the people you hike with; carry some 3x5 cards and distribute to all in case you get separated.

8.) Stay together as a group. Pretty sure if I was not thinking clearly, at least a couple of the others were struggling too.

9.) Listen to others. For just a moment, I'd pondered going down with the group. The hike leader made a good call and I should've deferred to his judgment.

Anyways, just a few thoughts, which I thought I'd pass on.

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

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