Falling: One of the Most Dangerous Aspects of Hiking and How to Prevent It
This week, when veteran hiker William Lowe was hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont, he slipped and fell, dislocating his ankle and breaking it in three places. Thanks to the Cornell Outdoor Society who happened to be hiking in the area around the same time, Lowe was protected until help was able to come, about five hours later. Waiting in the rain after having the shock of something like that is one thing. But, according to the Outdoor Society’s hiker Paul DeVito, “You don’t practice sitting and waiting for help to come.” Keeping Lowe warm and dry in the rain until help could come was half the battle. Luckily, everyone turned out alright.
While Lowe’s fall was certainly a bad one, it’s not one of the worse ones that the media has had to cover or families had to endure. People fall down every day on the trail. Sometimes it’s just a scrape, and other times it’s fatal. While falling may seem like something that could be easily prevented, it’s really hard to judge the situation when you weren’t there to see it.
If falling is a concern for you while hiking, and it very well should be, then there are a lot of things to watch out for besides just being clumsy. While awareness alone can’t prevent things, it certainly helps lower the statistics.
Anyone Can Fall
The first way to prevent falling is to understand that anyone can fall. It doesn’t matter if you’re a gymnast or if you have excellent vision. Falling can happen to anyone at any time. It can just be a slight fall, or a fall that will end your life. It can happen in a torrential downpour and it can happen on the clearest, brightest, sunniest day. Falling is never anyone’s fault, but it’s a mistake that can’t be changed once it’s made.
That being said, there are definitely certain factors that make falling more likely. Everyone should take some advice before heading out on the trail, in order to prevent falling as best as they can.
Not All Falls Are Created Equal
When you think of “falling” does your mind immediately go to falling off a cliff? If it did, we wouldn’t blame you. So, when we talk about falling, we should be a bit more specific with what we mean. Falling is just one way to get hurt, but there’s also tripping, slipping, sliding, getting knocked over, etc. In some cases, it’s just one of these. In others, one thing, like a slip, can lead to a much bigger fall.
You might be wondering why we’re going over this; it’s obvious, isn’t it? Well, it is. But, the fact of the matter is, if you’re looking for help, it’s very important to specify to rescue teams what actually happened. If you said someone fell on the mountain, when really someone tripped on the mountain, you will be looking over the cliff wondering why search and rescue teams are trying to discover a body.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
Yes, anyone can fall, trip, slide, whatever. But, that being said, you should never go out if the conditions conducive to falling are present. Weather of course has a huge effect on the chances of falling. Hikers should always pay attention to the trail and understand what it may be like before heading out.
Additionally, some other factors can influence your chances of hurting yourself outdoors. Water on rocks. Fast flowing streams. Climbing a mountain you weren’t prepared for. Wearing shoes that aren’t appropriate for the trail. And, of course, walking too close to the edge of a mountain; one of the top causes of fatal falls.
How to Do Your Best to Prevent Falls
When you look at the bigger picture, falls are not really preventable. Some people can trip over their own two feet. But, if you are hoping to reduce the chances of a fall, there are a few things you can do.
One is to reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying on your back. Too much weight can throw you off balance, which can increase the chances of hurting yourself.
Two is conditioning. It’s important to be in shape while you’re hiking. If you’re not in good shape or you’re not taking care of yourself while on the trail, such as forgetting to hydrate yourself, then it will definitely make you more likely to fall. Keep yourself awake, alert, and energized at all times.
Three is defensive hiking. Just like defensive driving, keep an eye on your surroundings. Always look ahead of you and don’t forget to take a look at what’s on the ground. If conditions aren’t good, make sure to not get distracted too much by the scenery. Taking your eyes off the trail for even a second could make hurting yourself more likely.
Remember, it only takes one fall to change your life forever. Be smart, be safe, and know how to help yourself and others if they fall.
Many people die every year from falls. Just take a look at this map here to get an idea. Falls can also cause people to get severely injured to the point where they’re immobile, which can obviously cause more problems. When you’re out on the trail, take these tips to help you prevent falls, and also look out for other hikers who may be in distress.