Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day Hike Syndrome Strikes Again

mountains, lost, day hike syndrome
The outdoors is big and hostile when you're out there overnight but didn't plan to be.
Two men out for a day of snowboarding on the slopes of Mount Rainier didn't make it back.

At least they didn't make it back when they intended. Derek Tyndall and Thomas Dale (20 and 21 years old respectively) became disoriented (aka lost) in a snowstorm while descending from Camp Muir. Unable to find their way, they used their cell phones to called for help.

The search began, and more than two dozen people hit the snow-covered mountain to assist in the rescue operation. Eventually, the rescue crew was able to make visual contact from about a half mile away, but were unable to reach the stranded men before nightfall. Then the weather got worse, forcing rescue crews off the mountain.

Tyndall and Dale reported via cell phone that they were cold but otherwise unhurt. As night approached, they dug a snow cave for shelter, but reportedly had no overnight gear with them.

There is so much to learn from an incident such as this one. The surprising thing to me is how often it is repeated. This whole scenario falls into what I call Day Hike Syndrome — which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest dangers when you trek off into the outdoors.

Day Hike Syndrome is that misaligned mental attitude in which people think nothing can go wrong because:
  • I'm only going for a short hike (ski, snowmobile ride, canoe ride, hunt, day of fishing, mountain bike ride, afternoon of snowboarding…you name it), and I'll be back before nightfall. 
  • I've done this before and nothing bad happened. 
  • I'll be with friends who are experienced 
  • yadda-yadda-yadda…plug in any excuse you can think of 
These are nothing more than lame attempts at rationalization about why you fail to carry overnight gear. It all stems from the misbegotten belief that you will surely be able to make it back home (or to your vehicle) without getting trapped outdoors overnight.

The problem is that you can't see the future. You can guess at it and place your bet, but trust me, the future can outguess you and deal you a losing hand. It can be even a slight injury that slows you down enough that you can't make it out before dark. It can be the sudden onset of unexpected weather. It can be that you simply take the wrong fork of a trail and lose your way.

Regardless of what causes it, you end up staying longer in the outdoors than you planned. All because you failed to plan for the eventuality that you would be spending the night (maybe several) out there. And then you end up in a survival situation with search and rescue teams risking their own lives to come and save yours.

So, what's the solution? Every time you take off for a "one day" trip into the outdoors, for whatever reason, take the kind of equipment that would be appropriate for an overnight stay in the wilds in your location and season.
  • Emergency shelter 
  • Fire starting equipment 
  • Water purification system 
  • Extra high-energy food 
  • Overnight clothing (I'm not talking about pajamas here) 
  • Flashlight 
  • Signaling devices (cell phone, mirror, whistle, PLB, SPOT) 

Never take anything for granted in the outdoors. It only takes a minor mistake to end up staying longer out there than planned.


  1. I can't see the future but I eat dessert first.

  2. That light with the dollar set of batteries is still putting out some light. This is day ten that it's been burning 24 hours a day.