“Is there anyone out there?”
That’s what I heard while running some trails around dusk last week. I’d heard the woman’s voice before, but didn’t think anything of it until I heard that question emerge from the woods. I stopped in my tracks, listened, then answered, “Yeah, right here!”
“I need help!” was the reply.
What followed: I kept talking to her, picking my way through the brush, homing in on where she might be. Then I saw a small but bright cellphone flashlight through the trees.
When I came up on Crystal, she was a little spooked but grateful someone was around. She told me she came out on the trails a little later in hopes of avoiding the crowds. But she’d never been to this place before, and when it started getting dark, the menagerie of side trails and shadowy woods left her lost, at least a couple of miles away from the trailhead parking lot.
Not exactly “127 Hours,” but to this gal, it was enough to cause more than a little fear. We hiked out of those woods together to a clearer trail and ran back to the trailhead safe and sound.
This incident brought me back to a question I received from a friend of mine named Jennifer who lives in Arkansas. She loves hiking and has dabbled in running, but was wondering what precautions she should take if she were to venture out on the trails for a solo hike.
A great topic. I go out on solo trail runs and hikes regularly. Bigger adventures alone have also happened, including a solo summit of Missouri Mountain in Colorado. Most of the time it’s gone fine, though there has been one near-miss buffalo encounter. Still, no harm was done and those solo hikes and runs are often the most memorable.
But I also realize that it’s just different for me than it is for Jen, or Crystal, or just about any other woman out there.
I could try to muddle my way through this topic on my own, but it’s better to let some women’s voices flesh it out. So I went to social media and got a few outdoor women to give me – and thus, you – their thoughts.
Heather Balogh is an experienced backcountry adventurer, traveler, hiker, mountaineer and trail runner. Her take is pretty simple: Don’t let the idea of going solo on the trails intimidate you.
“Honestly, I’ve never been concerned. I do always keep my cell phone with me in case and always tell someone where I’m running with a general idea of time frame so they’ll know if I’m gone too long. Otherwise, I think trails are WAY safer than roads. Any weirdo can be on a road. Trails take commitment and usually, creeps don’t have that level of determination.”
Heidi Nicole Kumm is a trail runner and recently, a 100-mile ultramarathon finisher. She gave a great bullet-point list of things to think about before heading off on the trails alone:
“Try to hit up popular trails during busy times so you’re not truly alone.
“Let someone know where you are and your route — then stick to it.
“Go on trails you’re comfortable with…that way if anything is ‘off’ you’ll pick up on it sooner.
“If you don’t have runners to go with, maybe recruit mountain biker friends to at least be at the same trailhead. Or even hikers.
“If you can avoid it, don’t run at dusk/dawn — mostly because of animals, not people. I’ve only ever seen rattlesnakes at dusk.
“Know what kind of animals are in the area and if they are a threat (when I moved to Colorado, coyotes scared me. They don’t anymore, although I do know what to do if they get too close to me, so I’m prepared).
“Oh, and if it makes you more comfortable, run in areas that have cell service — then you can call for help if there is a rattlesnake bite or you can call a friend to chat if there is a creeper person around.”
Noel Johnson is a hiker, climber, backpacker and mountaineer who got her start solo hiking up the slopes of Pikes Peak. Since then, she’s tagged more than a hundred high summits, many of them solo. I’m lucky to have accompanied her on a few of these. Anyway, security is one thing that is on her mind, as well as being prepared for worst-case scenarios.
“For me… I ALWAYS inform my husband or someone reliable of my start time/approximate finish time, trail I will be on, and I make certain to call as soon as I’m in range to let him/them know I am on my way home.
“I used to carry pepper spray with me, but I have been told that even the slightest wind shift can backfire it onto me if I had to use it, so I carry my stun gun on my pack within easy grabbing reach. I also carry a whistle on my pack (I’ve heard that can be deterrent if any creepers come around). Trekking poles (at least one) can be used quite handily as well in many situations.
“ I know, I’ve mainly focused on safety against attacks….but in other solo hiking good tips….I ALWAYS carry a headlamp (no matter if I’m just on a short day hike…along with the 10 essentials of hiking). Along with those, I carry an emergency bivy… a $12 item that could mean the difference between life or death in an emergency overnight in the woods. I normally always have an extra pair of gloves/mittens and enough food to last a couple of days.
“Also, I bring a GPS and map and compass (although I could use another navigation course to refresh for the latter).
“You should know the trail system that you are going to hike, too… I’ve made mistakes in the past and have gotten off course… it can be a bit intimidating.”
LOOKING AT DECISIONS
So let’s go back to the situation I found my fellow trail runner in. Clearly, she made a couple of mistakes. She went out in late afternoon on trails she didn’t know, and then got caught alone in the dark.
However, let’s look at a couple of things she did right.
For starters, she had her cellphone with her. She told me that she’d called her boyfriend about her predicament just before I heard her. So even if no one had come along, someone knew she was in trouble and could either come looking for her or send for help.
Secondly, she didn’t panic and just sit there. She recognized she had a problem and kept making decisions. One was the call to her boyfriend. Another was calling out for help. As it turned out, that second action is what eventually got her on a more secure footing to head home.
And that leads me to re-emphasize that point. If you ever get lost, the best thing you can do is keep making decisions. This will keep you from panicking, it will put your mind and body in a proactive posture (although sometimes staying put when you’re lost is the best course of action), and may ultimately give you the solution to your problem, which in this case was being lost in a strange place.
So there it is. Good, trustworthy advice from three women who have high outdoor cred. Learn from them and don’t be afraid to explore the trails on your own.
Want to know more about these gals? Check out Heather’s website or follow her on Twitter @AColoradoGal. You can catch up on Heidi’s doings here or follow her on Twitter @runaroundaroo. And to find Noel, just hike the 14ers or search 14ers.com and ask for the Cookie Hiker.