A Lesson In Being Prepared

Sometimes lessons learned early are forgotten until something serves as a stark reminder of what we once knew.  I have always prided myself on being prepared, on looking at all the reasonable possibilities and being ready to deal with whichever one comes my way.  This past weekend I was issued one of those stark reminders when a simple hiking trip took a turn for the worse…

It was just supposed to be a quick hike.  The information I had showed the hike would be just over 1km from the trailhead to the top of an unnamed hill in Kananaskis Country.  The total elevation gain was under 250m and, while there was no defined trail and the going was expected to be rough, I figured it would take me less than an hour round trip.

That’s why, on a sunny Saturday morning, I parked my car just off to the side of Highway 68 and set off with my dog but little else.  I had checked for cell coverage and found none so I left my phone in the car.  I was carrying my camera and GPSr, but opted not to bring my backpack.  After all, I didn’t need all that extra weight for what was going to be a simple hike.  Likewise I chose to not bring my trekking poles, surmising they would be more of a hindrance than benefit when I got into the deadfall.


Moose Mountain – I was much better prepared the day I ascended it

I was just 400m from the top of the hill when I climbed over a fallen tree.  It is the exact same manoeuvre I have done hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times while hiking.  I stepped up onto the trunk, found my balance point and dropped down to the other side.  This time, unlike all the other times, something went wrong.  The grass and plants had obscured a small hole on the other side of the trunk.  As my right ankle hit the side of the hole I heard a loud pop and I went down hard.

I lay there for several minutes trying to gather my bearings.  The pain in my ankle was intense and I feared it was broken.  I was also concerned I would not be able to put any weight on it.  I started gathering my thoughts by taking stock of my situation.  I realized I had violated the two most important rules of safe hiking:

– No one knew where I was.  I had said I was going to the Sibbald Flats area, but that covers an awful lot of ground.  Sure, if Search and Rescue came looking for me they would easily find my car, but with no defined trails how would they know which way I had gone?

– I had no supplies.  No food.  No water.  No first aid kit.  No emergency blanket.  If I was going to be there for awhile I was going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

I did have my camera.  It has a small mirror on the back so I figured if worse came to worst I could always use it as a signalling device.  However, that would mean someone would need to be looking for me and, since no one knew when I was expecting to be back (remember how I said I broke all the rules?) that would be many hours away.

No, I knew if I was going to get out of there I would need to do it myself.  Using the trunk for leverage I pulled myself to my feet and gingerly tested my ankle.  It hurt, but it seemed to hold my weight.  There was something positive to hang my hat on!

There were only two choices – up or down.  I opted to continue upwards, my reasoning being it would be easier to attract help from a high point instead of a low point.  I also knew going upwards would be moving me closer to the road.

I actually made it to the top without too many problems.  Just as I reached the top my ankle gave way and I went down a second time.  I managed to locate a branch that was the right size and shape to use as a bit of a crutch which helped a bit.  I decided to give up my advantageous high ground and go for the car.

Instead of taking the longer but gentler slope down the backside of the hill where I came up, I opted to descend the much steeper and rockier front slope.  The topographical map in my GPSr seemed to indicate it was do-able and – big plus here – the rockier surface meant there was much less deadfall to deal with at the higher elevation.  I expected the lower elevation was sheltered in the valley so I might not have much deadfall to deal with at all.  It also was a direct line to the road and civilization.

I managed to slip and slide my way down the rocks and finally into the trees.  The direct approach was only about 500m to the road and, while it took me awhile to cover that distance, I thought I made pretty good progress.  There was very little deadfall which meant I could limit the strain on my ankle.  I emerged onto the gravel road just 200m from my car and from there it was a simple matter of driving home.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Over the weekend I had the ankle x-rayed and they found two small bone chips – one was fairly worn and rounded which the doctor believes was from a previous ankle injury.  The second one was smaller, not being detected by the radiologist until a day later.  The recovery process is basically “brace it, ice it, rest it and see us again in a week.”

Sometimes we get complacent when things seem too simple.  I guess there is a lesson here for all of us. 

“It’s not until you get back to nature that you realize that everything is out to get you. So my father always told me to respect nature, because it has no respect for you.” – Dana Scully, The X-Files

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