Knowing When to Turn Back

I’ve covered a lot of mountaineering lately. Let’s talk hiking today.

A couple of years ago I introduced my wife to what I call a “real” day hike. We headed up the west side of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak (if its shape can be called a peak.) I made us turn back about 300 feet from the summit ridge on the Maple Ridge Trail. She was okay with my reasoning at the time but later, sometime afterwards, she asked me what was my analysis since she wouldn’t have made that call.

The reason that I called it quits was that I wanted prevent us from descending in the dark on the wet, slippery slopes.

In this case we started too late, it was going to be dark soon, the trail was sopping wet, we were getting to the steepest part, and the frequent stretches of slabs in these conditions were challenging. I certainly was not going put my wife in a situation where she would hate: 1) Hiking and the mountains, or 2) Me. Here is a list of considerations for your risk analysis on any trail:

  • Distance (short and easy, short but hard, long and easy or long and hard)
  • Time of Day (early, late)
  • Terrain (difficulty, texture, vegetation density, up hill, down hill, river crossing)
  • Conditions (weather, moisture, season)
  • Body Condition (energy level, injury, soreness, hungry, tolerance for pain)
  • Wildlife Hazards (bear activity, herd movement, insects)

In addition to these factors, just be sure you go prepared. Pack the Ten Essentials and make sure everyone in the group can navigate. Sleeping outside overnight is always a possibility and an option that must be included for safety’s sake.

Above all, attitude also plays a factor, and a positive one should be maintained. But if someone loses their grip, be sure it isn’t you, and be ready to deal with tears from others if necessary. Fortunately we never reached those points, because I knew to turn around.

Thanks again for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, you can following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or following me on Twitter (@SuburbanMtnr). There I will have lot’s of other news and resources as it’s made available to me. Happy trails!


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