Even with the best of plans, tragedies happen. A mountain side is too steep, the terrain too rugged, one turns left instead of right, and a person can take a tumble. That’s what happened on Tuesday when two hikers veered slightly off-course on Teewinot Mountain in the Grand Teton National Park. One of them slipped and tumbled 300-feet. The tumble killed him.
According to Kurt Repanshek’s post in the National Park Traveler, the two men, Eliot Kalmbach and Jon Winiasz, both in their early twenties, hadn’t planned to do any major climbing so they weren’t wearing helmets or carrying climbing gear. They had talked to park rangers to find out where they should hike before they headed out a couple days before the accident and were following the rangers’ suggestions except that they mistakenly headed across a steeper section of Teewinot after a night of camping at Lupine Meadows. That’s where Kalmbach fell.
Fortunately, Winaisz was able to reach Kalmbach to use his cell phone to call for help. Kalmbach, however was already not breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Thankfully, the rescue of both men took less than three hours. Winaisz was lifted out within two.
This story reminds me of a similar one that happened years ago when one of my husband’s close friends fell to his death in Glacier National Park. My husband worked with this friend at the park’s Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and remembers exactly what it was like waiting for the body to be recovered. His friend’s death is something he recalls as being one of the worst events of his life.
I can’t imagine what Winiasz is going through after what sounds like a blissful adventure with a friend turned into a trip that he’ll never forget for such a horrible reason. How very sad.
As spring beckons people to outdoor endeavors, it doesn’t hurt to do a run-down of what is the best outdoor behavior to stay safe and not damage nature in the process of enjoying it. Here are five reasons for staying on a trail when hiking. They are not in any order of importance except for the last one. That one is the most important.
After Pat Quackenbush, the naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio introduces himself at the beginning of the naturalist led night hike to Ash Cave, he talks about the three-foot drop on the right side of the trail further along the path. When I took such a hike, he advised the 150 plus people who had come to be wowed to stay closer to the left and watch out for that drop. This leads to Reason Number 1.
- Reason 1: There may be places where the trail has eroded at the edges or where there is a dangerous spot to be aware of. Paying attention to the trail also helps you see roots, rocks or branches along the path that may twist an ankle or cause a fall. This also helps keep you aware of slick spots caused by mud or wet leaves.
- Reason 2: It protects the environment. When you step off trails, you damage the ecosystem. Often there are rare plants, moss, lichen, bugs or whatever that are in balance with each other. Your boot or sneaker-clad foot can do enough damage in one second that takes years to undo.
- Reason 3: Depending upon where you’re hiking, birds can be nesting near the trail. Your intrusion can mess up the procreation process. Even worse, you could step on a nest and take out the bird family.
- Reason 4: Staying on a trail helps prevent you from getting lost. You still might get lost, but at least if you’re on a trail, there’s a path for people to follow to find you. If you go bushwhacking in the woods, lots of luck with that.
- Reason 5: It can save your life! During his talk Quackenbush also said that hiking at night without a naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park is not allowed. This is for good reason. The park has cliffs and drop-offs galore. If you don’t know where they are, you can fall. In the best case scenerio, you twist an ankle. In the worst case, you die. That’s what happened this past weekend at one section of the park. A 20-year old woman scrambled up off the trail, only to fall. She later died at the hospital.
Bonus Reason: Reason 5 reminded me of this reason. If you die while hiking, your family and friends could be forever haunted by your fall. When my husband was in his 20s, one of his friends fell off a cliff in Glacier National Park in Montana. My husband was working with him at one of the lodges the time. Years later, my husband still talks about that day as if it just happened.
Seriously, folks. Stay on that trail. It’s a trail and it’s marked for good reason.
*The first photo was taken by desparil on a mountain summit in Corsica, France.
Today’s photo comes from my new collection of photos taken in Niagara earlier today. Since I was so ill prepared for a 6 degree photo shoot near the misty falls, I snapped and snapped what I could as fast as I could and then made a mad dash back to the car. It was beautiful, breath-taking and brrr…
Something about it being Labor Day and this huge crashing waterfall just felt right together. Caffeineguy took this one while wandering around South America somewhere. Brazil? Argentina? Not entirely sure, but it looks as if he was rather close to the waterfall’s edge. Oh, and I can just hear the loud crashing sound from the falls. That’s how alive this photo is! Good stuff.