Thursday, August 11, 2011

People And The Outdoors

There have been many news stories recently about people's misfortunes in the Wild. There have been numerous hikers attacked and killed by bears. (this one I liked a lot because the guy kept cool under pressure and in another article, recognized it wasn't the bear's fault).

There is the now infamous story of the couple who went to Yosemite, went over the railing, splashed around in the river above the falls and ultimately lost their lives.

Just last weekend, one person lost their life hiking above the falls of Eaton Canyon and Altadena Rescue has been pulling upwards of 48 people out of the canyon in various states of distress just this year ALONE!

People have been getting into trouble in the wilderness since there were people. Even a well equipped caveman with a club and sturdy loin cloth got trapped in a random block of ice. What does it all mean?

I have 3 thoughts about all of these recent news stories and while there is no grand string theory of the modern outdoors, let's see if I can tie some things together.

1) There are more people and more people are using the outdoors.
Despite us being more aware of things going wrong in the outdoors due to increased media coverage, there really are more people in the world. This bad economy means that more and more of us humans are going to the relatively cheap vacations of the parks. Attendance, which has been going down over the last decade is going up now. Recreation visits are going up. As my recent trip to Eaton Canyon can attest, on the most popular trails, there are a lot more people.  

Also, in the most remote parts, there are more and more groups. The fact that there are lotteries for Mount Whitney and that the kids who were attacked in Alaska were from all over the country are just two anecdotes that seems to suggest the larger trend. With more people, popular trails get crowded and remote places become less so.

2) There Seems To Be A Growing Divide In The Outdoor Community.

I only got back into hiking a few years ago. When I was tromping around the Adirondack with my dad, it was with an old rucksack and wearing cotton. When I got back into it, I couldn't believe how much money it costs to get the right pants, the right shirt, the right boots. To basically go for a walk in the mountains would set you back a couple of hundred bucks.

Its not getting any better. I am pretty much an online gear junkie. Checking out the latest trends, the latest threads. I haven't pulled the trigger on much because truly, the price is pretty high for a lot of this gear. As I have pontificated before, its probably gear you do not need. The people who do not buy in, that I see on the trail, are ill prepared (nylon or wool cotton or not) even for a walk down a city street much less a rocky trail.

3) My Overriding Thought: There Is More And Its Not Getting Any Better Anytime Soon.
More people on trails. They are not as prepared either in equipment or clothing and there are more and more disastrous results because of it.

Better equipment, more "knowledge"? It helps people go further into the wilderness and with items like the Spot, thinking that rescue will come even in the most remote stretches of the planet.

What this all means is that more people need more rescues for a variety of reasons. Added to that, there is less money to pay for people to rescue the unfortunate and less money to warn of danger or make wilderness situations safer ($9 billion in backlogged park maintenance projects and counting).

I think the approach should be to have cash-strapped state agencies coordinate with non-profits to reach out to under-served populations not only to teach good wilderness habits but to help equip people for their time in the wilderness. Also, as this is just in the beginning stages herein California, non-profits should start taking over some of the maintenance roles of the state to help the parks stay open and if open, stay safer for those visiting it. Let's face it, parks are low on the funding priority list and its not going to get better any time soon. Do we want parks to close or volunteer our time to help everyone responsibly enjoy nature?

Finally, I think the ours is a compassionate society but there must be some responsibility for putting yourself in supremely dangerous situations and inviting rescue. I couldn't figure out an answer to the "expert in danger" side of the coin in one of my previous posts but there has to be SOME stick to go along with the carrot.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Let me know what you think!


  1. Am catching up today on some blog-reading, and appreciate your thoughts here. However, what I really want to say is that your link/reference to the caveman trapped in a sturdy block of ice made me laugh!

  2. Ha, thanks Danny, a little humor, especially caveman humor, can go a long way.


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