2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Preparing for the Unexpected


Lessons Learned:

  1. You can’t plan for everything.
  2. Accidents happen.
  3. The unexpected is to be expected.

Injury:

If you hike enough miles, you’re going to get injured. Knowing how to minimize injuries helps as does finding the balance of what to include in your first aid kit, because yes weight matters. These are a few of the injuries I’ve sustained.

  • Blisters – Thankfully now that I have my sock/shoe combination perfected I rarely get blisters but when I feel a hot spot or discover a blister my treatment includes covering the spot with Leukotape-P. Leave it on until it falls off. If it’s a blister, I’ll drain it first using a needle, floss and alcohol wipe. If it’s night I’ll wait to tape until it drains overnight leaving the floss extended through the blister and removed in the morning.
  • Tendonitis – This is one of the most challenging injuries to deal with on trail. You can try stretching and resting but truly the only cure is longer rest that you can provide hiking so the goal is to get off trail. I’ve learned to tape to prevent one type of tendonitis I’m prone to get in an ankle when hiking very steep terrain.
  • Cuts/Scrapes/Abrasions – Most of these can be ignored. For more serious ones, I carry antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze and leuko tape. The worst cut I sustained was hiking in snow when I sliced open my palm on a rock. I used my buff to apply pressure and stop the bleeding, then used steri-strips to close the wound. Cactus and yucca are my worst enemies. For the times I’m in areas of jumping cholla I carry full size tweezers and a comb.
  • Stings/Bites – While these tend to be more irritating than serious for most people, I get bacterial infections and am sensitive to bee/wasp stings and biting flies in particular. I now carry benadryl and pepcid as the combination recommended by my doctor. I’ve used a few times and it works. I also carry some type of anti-itch relief as bites drive me bonkers. In areas with ticks, I carry a tick key and do regular checks. Thankfully I haven’t ever had a seriously embedded tick and in fact have had few encounters.
  • Black Toenails – Once I switched from boots to trail runners these became a bygone memory. I also use a narrow heel lacing technique to keep my foot from sliding forward as well as wear shoes with a wide toe box.

Accidents:

I feel like for the amount of miles and types of terrain I hike, my accident rate is about the best I could hope to achieve. My goal is to be as careful as possible but I know I take risks I shouldn’t however it seems most of my accidents happen on easy terrain.

  • Broken Ribs – I was hiking out after a few days on trail with a friend. We’d done some off trailing and taken some risks. But no, two miles from the trailhead, I slipped on a bit of sand that was on a waterbar. There happened to be a limb that grabbed my ribs as I slid to my butt. Gravity worked against me between the pack and the limb. I was able to hike out and drive two hours home. The next few weeks were painful and limiting but I didn’t need medical intervention, just time.
  • Broken Wrist – On my 9th day of hiking on a section of the PCT in Oregon, I walked off the trail. It was flat and wide with no obstacles but I think I just lost my focus. This incident was bad as my wrist dislocated and ended up not only broken in three places, it also became my one and only inReach activation with SAR involvement.
  • Slips and Falls – These happen more often than I’d like to admit. I remember falling off a log during a water crossing that could have had serious consequences. For me I’d rather walk through water with my shoes on than attempt rock jumping or a log balance beam. I’ve also learned how to use my hiking poles to brace myself during steep downhills, as well as adopting the crab and dog techniques knowing four points of contact are better than two.

Ailments:

I’ve been lucky and haven’t ever been sick on trail. I carry something for stomach issues and diarrhea. Thankfully I’ve never had giardia either. The worst I’ve had is soft stools which can make for quite a mess requiring extra wipes so I plan for that situation. Using a bidet is helpful.

Weather:

I’ve learned to check point-specific weather, like the forecasts available on NOOA, the day before and morning of a trip so I can pack accordingly. I also use the weather feature on my inReach, although I’ve found it to be 50/50 on accuracy.

  • Lightning – This has been the most scary weather to experience on trail. I spent so many hours in the lightning prevention position when hiking the JMT. I was glad I’d done some advance research.
  • Rain, Rain, Rain – Multiple days of rain is my least favorite weather. I’m a sunshine gal and don’t enjoy hiking in the rain and definitely don’t like dealing with wet gear. But to avoid hypothermia, it’s important to add a few items to your pack and know best practices.
  • Snow – The biggest concern for me is damage to my 3-season tent, so I make sure to knock off accumulation during the night. I’d rather hide out in my tent than hike through a wet snow storm. Hypothermia is real and my quilt keeps me toasty warm especially if I avoid getting wet and chilled first.
  • Wind – There are a few concerns with wind, the first is dust in my eyes which I try to remedy with eye drops which I always carry. Strong winds can damage tents so I try to set up with the narrow end facing the wind. I’ve also learned to use my hiking poles for extra support. One of the worst is blowing sand. It’s nearly impossible to avoid and will seriously damage zippers.

Equipment/Technology Failures:

  • Phone – Of all my gear, this is probably my most dependent item and the one I cringe at losing or breaking. I rely on my phone for navigation and although I’m usually prepared with a paper map and compass, the phone is my security blanket. I try to take extra precautions to protect this precious resource but the reality is stuff happens. My phone fell out of my pants pocket once when I was climbing rocks. Thankfully I was able to find after backtracking and amazingly it wasn’t broken. Sometimes apps stop working or I forget to download maps for offline use. I carry a back-up battery to help keep this important item charged.
  • Tent – Zippers seem to be the first item to fail. Keeping them clean helps but in buggy areas having them fail is a serious irritant. Most of the time you can clean and tighten to extend the life. Other times you need the zipper replaced. Losing stakes is probably the most common but thankfully you can usually find a substitute items such as rocks.
  • Hiking Poles – For me four legs are better than two so broken or lost poles are a bit of a nightmare. Sometimes you can repair other times you can use a stick. One surprise was when carpenter ants ate the cork during the night. I used a glove to cover the handle until I could get to town.
  • Water Filter – I remember the time I filtered the wrong direction through my Sawyer Squeeze tainting both my filter and clean bag. Thankfully I had water treatment tablets with me so I treated the water in my clean bag which then allowed me to backflush my filter. I always carry a few tablets because treating water is essential in my opinion and since I hike solo most often I need to be self sufficient.
  • Stove – I’ve run out of fuel or had a bad canister of fuel. Sometimes igniters fail so I bring a mini lighter which would also be used for an emergency fire and for sterilizing a needle. What do you do if you’re solo, you cold soak. It might not be the most tasty meal but it’s nutrition.
  • Air Mattress – Eventually even when super careful, most likely your pad will develop a leak. If you can find the leak, it’s pretty easy to repair in the field. Tenancious tape is a great multi-use repair item. I’ve never had success finding leaks even in the best of situations. In every case I end up returning to the manufacturer for replacement. You might just have a few uncomfortable nights, but you won’t die.

Navigational Errors:

Getting misplaced isn’t fun. I take this very seriously and try to be as prepared as possible so I can stay found and avoid wasting time and energy wandering around, although it happens occasionally. The key is not to panic and try to return to the place you were last on trail or in a known location. I’ve had this happen when having to negotiate my way around down trees or other trail obstacles. If I’m flustered the next step is to take a break where I can eat, drink and study maps. Thankfully I’ve never needed to activate the inReach but it’s my security blanket just in case.

Trail Conditions:

My rule of thumb is to be prepared to turnaround. I’d rather reverse direction than die attempting something I consider beyond reasonable risk whether that be eroded trail or sketchy snow, scree or swift water crossing. I also take extra precautions for major water crossings by stowing my electronics and down gear in waterproof bags.

Wildlife:

I’m always alert to wildlife signs especially bear and big cats. I see plenty of prints and scat but haven’t seen a mountain lion. I regularly see bears but they’ve all acted as bears should and ran once they saw, smelled or heard me. In some areas mountain goats can be a problem. Although they hung out in or near my camp in several places in Washington, they’ve never bothered me. Deer can be pests; they might steal your clothes or hiking poles for salt. Mice are a huge problem in some places like Washington, and as such I recommend hanging your food in a rodent safe bag. Rattlesnakes cause me far more concern than bears.

Creepy Peeps:

These have been few and far between and I’ve never felt endangered until my recent dog bite incident. I recall one sketchy hitchhiking incident that we bailed from before getting into that uncomfortable situation. I always have my radar on high alert near roads, trailheads and campgrounds, and avoid camping in those areas.

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