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A lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Gardner Post IndependentEven short day hikes such as the Avalanche Creek Trail can turn into dangerous situations for people who don't bring enough food, water and gear.
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Glenwood Springs, Colorado ” Being an ex-cub scout, the phrase: “Always be prepared” resonates with me. The funny thing I’ve found true about playing in the great outdoors is that you may never be fully prepared for all the potential hazards that exist.

Growing up in Colorado and being a product of the wilderness, I like to consider myself an “experienced” outdoorsman. I use the term “experienced” loosely, but I’ve had no more than a sprained ankle on any trip in my nearly 32 years traveling into the wilderness. That’s not to say, being a man, I often find my confidence overrides sensibility and reason, and find myself unprepared more often than I’d like to admit.

I tend to be like a puppy, unable to contain my excitement or show any patience when the door cracks and the first whiff of nature crosses my nostrils. I just want to get the dirt beneath my feet.



Being under-prepared in the wilderness is something everyone has done at one time or another for whatever reason, and some may not even know that they have been.

For myself, it occurs most often during the smaller trips, or day hikes, where I tend to go into the wilderness on a whim. The reflection of the morning sunshine upon the spring hills calls me to the trails on the days I’m not summoned to work.



One particular day hike in July of 2007 left me and a hiking companion drenched and chilled to the core more than five miles from where I’d left my Jeep. An unexpected midday rain storm rushed the area during a hike on the Avalanche Creek Trail near Redstone. I was in unfamiliar territory and it was my first time hiking in the Snowmass Wilderness area. Nonetheless, I took off without much more than my backpack, water, snacks and a smile.

At least I had two of the 10 essentials.

It didn’t take long for the sunny June skies to turn. And not having rain gear, a jacket, or even a pair of long pants to change into made the rest of the hike a battle to stay warm and dry.

Luckily for me and my hiking companion, we were close enough to the parking lot and with the storm passing in less than half-an-hour, we managed to survive without many of the necessities on the list. But according to Howard Paul, public affairs manager for the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, a trip as simple as our Avalanche Creek hike could have quickly turned negative.

“If you look at the all the categories the state keeps track of, the majority of (search and rescue) missions involve hikers,” Paul said.

Hikers, be it day hikers on a short excursion or an extended multi-day trip in the backcountry, make up approximately 27 percent of the 1,255 search and rescue missions averaged each year statewide, Paul said.

Some reasons for the high percentage are simply that there are more people hiking than any other outdoor recreation in general. This is especially the case between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“What it comes down to is how many people are engaged into any one activity,” Paul said. “You’ve got so many more people on day hikes. So just because there are so many more of them, the percentage will increase in that area.”

But that doesn’t make the statistics any less accurate. Looking back at my Avalanche Creek hike, the circumstances could have gotten worse very quickly, even though I didn’t feel like I was far enough out to be in much danger, a common misconception according to Paul.

“Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can put someone in a dangerous situation,” Paul said. “A broken leg on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs isn’t as much of a problem as it would be in the backcountry.”

Something as simple as slipping on a log could result in rolling an ankle or breaking a leg, immobilizing a person, and making a 5-mile return hike turn into a very long, cold night in the wilderness. Throw a sudden storm into the mix, and without the proper rain gear or shelter, the whole situation just intensifies.

“If you’re in a precarious situation and some weather rolls in, now you are hypothermic and you can’t move, and you are stuck,” Paul said. “At least the top 10 essentials will help you at least hobble out of the wilderness.”

Never have the words “Always be prepared” rang so true. This year, I’ll try better to practice what I preach.

John Gardner is a reporter for the Post Independent. He can be reached at 384-9114 or jgardner@postindependent.com.

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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