Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do You Know the Number One Danger When Hiking in a Group?

I have led groups on hundreds of hikes over the past 15 years with very few incidents. I always stress safety first. We do some pretty extreme hikes and you would think the number one danger would be someone falling, it isn’t. Watch the video.
The video shows how dangerous rock fall can be in the mountains. Imagine if that rock or a larger rock hit you! It would bust a rib, break a leg or, if it hit you in your head… let’s not think about that.

How To Avoid Rock Fall

The obvious answer is to hike only on trails. Since there are only two peaks that have official trails to them in Mt. Charleston (Charleston Peak and Cathedral Rock), that’s not practical for peak baggers.  Red Rock has one peak that has an official trail to the summit: Turtlehead and it’s impossible to follow the trail.
I have hiked all over the southwestern United States and Mt. Charleston has some of the loosest rock I have ever hiked. We can’t change that, but we can decrease the odds of getting hurt.
The greatest danger is on the descent. During the descent hikers become tired and they do not pay attention. They accidently dislodge a rock hurling it down the slope sometimes hundreds of yards. You do not want to be 100 feet below a hiker who dislodges a rock.

Rules to Keep You Safe:

Limit the number of hikers in your group (fewer hikers, less chance of dislodging a rock.)
If you dislodge a rock, yell: Rock!
Avoid routes that are known to have extremely loose rock. Email me if you have questions about a route.
Have the group stay together (I mean really close). If someone dislodges a rock, hopefully the person below him or her can stop the rock before it gains too much momentum.
Have hikers watch where they are stepping. It’s no accident that good hikers dislodge far less rocks.
If you are in a large group (eight or more), divide into two groups and ascend or descend across from each other making sure one group does not get ahead of the other group.
When you come to a chute while descending, wait until all hikers are together before climbing down the chute. It’s difficult to get out of the way if a rock is coming at you in a chute.
When ascending be very careful exiting a chute if there’s loose rock present. Make sure all hikers are out of the line of fire and let them know when it’s safe for the next person to climb the chute.

The Rock Has Your Name On It!

It’s a sick feeling watching a rock coming at you. Unfortunately, I know from experience. If there’s enough time hide around a wall or behind a tree. I realize this is not possible most of the time.
Stay light on your feet and be ready to jump out of the way. Don’t assume the rock will not hit you if it’s 30 feet to your left or right. I have seen rocks take some crazy bounces.
If you can’t get out of the way, try to deflect the rock with your hands.
If it’s coming for your head, duck or cover your face.

Rock fall is part of mountaineering and that’s what you are really doing when you follow routes, not trails, to the summits in Mt. Charleston. It’s a risk you have to accept if you want to climb most of the peaks in Mt. Charleston.