Mistakes. Oh boy, have I made mistakes in the backcountry!
Part of the reason I really enjoy taking outdoor classes with the Colorado Mountain Club is because I’ve made mistakes before and as I want to get in to more techincal or out-of-the box activities (winter camping, rock climbing, technical mountain climbing), I know I can’t really afford to make mistakes.
But, like everyone, I’ve definitely had my fair share of mishaps while out adventureing and this week, Sierra Trading Post has asked us #STPLive chatters to share our stories. Partly to commiserate with each other, partly to learn from others mistakes. You can find the full roundup of posts here.
(PS – join us on Thursday, 3/27 for #STPLive and share your mistakes while out adventuring!)
I have two big mistakes that I can laugh about now but made my heart pound in the moment.
1. Philly’s Grand Adventure (or: You’re Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link)
I have a really nervous dog, Philly. We adopted her from the local shelter as a 5 year old pup with no real details on her past. She’s very quiet and very timid even 2.5 years later but, man, that girl LOVES to be outside.
The summer after we adopted her, we decided to take her on a car camping adventure – a one-night stay out in a tent – to see if she’d be a solid mountain companion pup. Alex and I took her with us to a section of the Colorado Trail, just outside Turqoise Lake near Leadville. We’d spent the summer day hiking and exploring; as the afternoon changed to evening, we’d set up camp, eaten dinner and refilled our water. Last task? Change clothes and hop into our tent for the night. Easy, right?
A miscommunication between us left Philly’s leash unattended on the ground.
Many things terrify Philly but an unattended leash (or a tethered leash) seems to take the scariest cake. When she caught sight of that leash laying on the ground, following her, she BOLTED. In the dimming evening light, she ran down the trail a couple hundred yards to the open parking lot. Spotting that leash sill behind her, she tore back up the trail, slipping past our attempts to corner her or grab her leash.
Alex and I had just taken our hiking boots off. I’d taken my contacts out. Our headlamps were still in our packs. The sun was behind the mountains and our dog was running wild, scared out of her mind in the wilderness. This was not a good situation.
We chased Philly up the trail as best as possible but ultimately decided to protect ourselves and head back down the trail and call it a night. Our search party would begin again in daylight. It was a hard night, full of tears (by me) and awful images of Philly ending up like the goat in Jurassic Park.
The next morning, Alex and I were up before dawn and hit the trail in the direction we last saw the dog run. About ten minutes later, I saw her little black ears peeking out from low shurbs and my heart burst with relief. We’d found our pup! We calmly cornered her – I distracted her while Alex snuck in and grabbed her leash – and brought her back down the trail to the tent.
Lesson learned? You’re only as strong as your weakest link. If my dog can’t handle being on a leash, unattended, she is a major liability in the wilderness and will stay at home, instead. And – that communication is KEY in any situation but especially with a special needs dog.
2. The Epic Snow Saw Incidient of 2013
Last winter, Alex and I took a winter camping class to learn how to survive a night in the snow. We’d participated in all of the classroom lectures and field days and were really excited to put our practice to the test on our first overnight trip at St. Mary’s Glacier with our group.
St. Mary’s is notoriously windy. The morning had been super snowy and windy as we set up camp and built our snow kitchens. Around 3 p.m., our groups were finishing up their campsites as the snow and wind broke. Blue skies! Quiet air! It instantly warmed up and Alex took his gloves off to finish setting up our sleeping pad and bags that I was retreiving from our packs and handing to him.
It’s hard to see but there’s a snow saw sticking out of the snow without the guard on in the corner of the photo. We certainly didn’t see it.
As the wind gusted through, it took with it a stuff sack I hadn’t secured and Alex instinctively reached out to snag the bag before it was lost forever. As he grabbed the sack, the unguarded saw sliced through his thumb.
In an instant, blood was all over his hand and he was yelling. After the initial shock, he remained surprisingly calm, applied pressure to his cut as our instructors hustled over to assess the wound and bandage him up. Immediatly, the instructor administering first aid told me to collect his essential items (ID, insurance card, water, trekking poles and snowshoes) because we needed to get Alex off the glacier and to a hosptial. This was a significant slice that required medical attention ASAP.
We strapped on his snowshoes, gave him a trekking pole and left the rest of our gear on the mountain as we slowly hiked the .75 miles to the car. Alex was alert the entire time, did not once complain of pain and remained in good spirits the entire way to the hospital. Because the Alex was doing much better than we had expected, our instructor brought us to Rose Hospital in Denver, our preffered hosptial, rather than stopping in an unfamiliar hospital along the way.
2 hours later, Alex was stitched up and discharged. Thankfully, our saw was brand new so the cut was clean and had only nicked a tendon so the damage was as minimal as could be.
We spent the night at home in Denver, obviously, but returned for the next overnight trip a few weeks later and completed the course with no further incidents. You can bet we never, ever leave a snow saw (or any sharp object) unguarded and certainly never leave any loose object unsecured.
There have been mini-mistakes along the way, too, but these two major mistakes take the top spots in our ourdoor adventure mishaps.
Now it’s your turn! Come share your stories on Twitter this Thursday, 3/27 at 4 p.m. MT using the #STPLive hashtag and follwing @SierraTP for questions. Catch ya there!