Being able to get out and enjoy public lands is one of the things I hold nearest and dearest. With public lands coming up in the news this month and several personal experiences in the last few weeks, I felt the need to write about a topic I’ve always felt was just common knowledge; respect.
My last few hiking experiences have told me differently.
I was raised on the Great Outdoors. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on trails, on ski slopes, in back country campsites, hanging off rock walls, splashing in rivers and lakes. My dad and mom have been doing it since they were kids and my grandpas before them. I was taught at a very early age to respect the mountain.
The mountain can kill you.
I don’t care if you’re on a day hike, in bounds at a ski area, or climbing a 14er. The mountain can kill you.
The goal of this post is not to instill fear, but to bring about an important realization. Acknowledging the mountain can kill you is Step 1.
With more and more people moving to Colorado, I’m seeing more and more people out on the trails that don’t have a clue what they’re doing. I think its great that they’re getting outside. I hope everybody gets the chance to experience Colorado’s mountains like I do, but I also see that lack of respect and say a little prayer every time I see one that they don’t end up as Search & Rescue’s next target.
Step 2 in having a healthy respect for the mountains is being prepared. If I’m going more than a couple hundred feet from the car, I always have a water bottle and a jacket with me. It doesn’t matter if its the middle of July, or the middle of January. Dehydration is real and the weather can turn on a dime. It doesn’t matter what the weather report says, its the same reason you carry and ice scraper with you all winter long in your car, or the same reason you carry insurance. Anything is possible. If I’m going more than a mile, I stick a granola bar in my backpack.
I grew up getting packed squished Clif Bars for school lunch; my dad’s climbing rejects. Did he ever actually eat the Clif Bars? I don’t know. But I do know that he was always prepared. If you end up out longer than you expect, or god forbid, in a bad situation, a granola bar can be a lifesaver. Literally.
We were snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park a few weeks ago and there was over 60″ of snow. I was up to my knees in some places wearing snowshoes and the weather was threatening to turn all afternoon. I was shocked at the number of people I saw trying to hike in skate shoes. Was it likely ignorance? Yes. But with the capabilities of Google in your pocket, its not hard to check weather conditions. These guys lacked a basic respect for nature.
Step 3 is realizing that you can’t dominate nature. I don’t care how much weight you can lift at the gym, or how many marathons you’ve run. I don’t care that you’re a 22 year old guy and nothing can stop you. Neither does the mountain.
Nature is not something man can dominate. Man builds a sidewalk, and the grass still finds a way to grow through the cracks. Man builds levies and nature destroys their city.
I could direct you to hundreds of stories of athletes, incredibly smart people and even seasoned mountaineers that have died at the hands of nature. Am I being dramatic? A little. But I’m not just talking about Everest. People have died on that 14er you day-hiked last summer. All I had to do was Google “Rocky Mountain National Park” and hit “News” to find this story of someone who got bested by nature there last weekend.
On the same trip in Rocky Mountain National Park, a group of younger guys, who I overhead later were all doctors, thought it would be funny to count to 3 and yell “Avalanche” at the top of their lungs. I would have hit them if I could have gotten there quick enough in my snowshoes (snowshoes, while practical, are not very good for running).
Was there avalanche danger at Emerald Lake that day? I don’t know. But I do know what they did was blatantly disrespectful to the back country skiers and boarders continuing up the ridge.
Being prepared wraps up into realizing you can’t dominate on the mountain. Leaving your ego in the car and grabbing a jacket. Recognizing the weather and realizing when its time to turn back. Realizing that you are NOT in charge and you have to respect Mother Nature or suffer the consequences.
So many outdoor activities seem like domination is the point, don’t they? Let me tell you a secret. Not one of those activities actually dominates Mother Nature. When you raft a section of rapids, did you dominate that river? Or did you successfully navigate the rapids to make it out alive? Do you dominate a mountain when you summit? Do you dominate a route when you send it? The river doesn’t change because of what you did, neither does the mountain or the crag. It’s not domination. It’s symbiosis, which requires respect.
Every outdoor activity holds some danger. Should you stop participating because you might die? Hell, no. You should acknowledge the danger, prepare for the danger and undertake the activity with a mindset of symbiosis, not domination.
Respect the mountain. Be prepared. Check your ego. Don’t ignore posted signs. Pick up your trash. Respect your Mother.
It seems simple, but I guess not everyone was raised on Colorado.