Going it Alone: What to Know Before You Go

solo mountainWhether you’re climbing mountains or just going for a hike, exploring nature with others is a wondrous challenge. If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, try doing it alone.

It’s a safe bet that if you adventure alone in the wilderness, you have certain skills. You are most likely aware of the basic survival gear you should bring incase of an emergency, no doubt you understand weather patterns and how they can shift drastically the higher you climb in elevation, and you certainly understand that adventuring alone requires, in most cases, more precaution than adventuring with friends. That said, here’s what all proficient peak-baggers should known or be reminded of before the head off into the great unknown alone.

Leave Your Contact Information
You know this, but it’s worth repeating. It’s easy to get comfortable and to take our knowledge and experience for granted. Perhaps you’re planning to bag a peak in an area you’ve hiked dozens of time and there’s a minuscule chance of you getting lost. Leave a note. Perhaps the peak you’re eyeing for the day isn’t particularly challenging or technical.  Perhaps you have the climbing skills of Alex Honnold (doubtful) and the route finding skills of Sacajawea (double doubtful).

Remember to include the following:

  • Your destination
  • When you are leaving and when you plan to return
  • What you are wearing and carrying i.e. a knife, bivvy, first aid kit, etc.
  • The make and model of your vehicle, along with the color and license plate number
  • The number of the nearest ranger station or search and rescue operation should you go missing

Have a Plan If Things Go South
For those who solo adventure regularly, having a plan and running through plans for a variety of scenarios can be beneficial. Just as servicemen in the army train for different combat situations, it’s important to think about the various dangerous situations that can arise when submitting alone. For example:

  • What will you do if you encounter aggressive wildlife? Do you have bear spray or a weapon? How and when should you use a weapon on wildlife?
  • What will you do if you encounter an aggressive human who intends to do you harm?
  • Are you adequately prepared for changing and severe weather?
  • If you become stranded due to weather or injury, what are your options?
  • Are you prepared to respond to an avalanche or rockslide situation?

Having a plan empowers you and can allow you to think more quickly and clearly should any of these scenarios become a reality.

solo mountainKnow the Nearest Place to Get Help
Even in remote areas, there are usually places to access assistance. Perhaps there’s a ranger station nearby, or a backcountry campground where people who are summiting the same mountain as you typically start their trek.

Knowing the area in which you are adventuring well means that, should a bad situation arise, you’ll be more likely to find assistance. Here are some things to look for on your next peak-bagging adventure:

  • Parks and Wildlife Trucks or vehicles
  • Ranger Stations
  • Backcountry Campgrounds
  • Areas along the trail where you could seek shelter if the weather is severe

Speaking of Weather
Weather is the “X” factor when it comes to hiking and summiting mountains at high altitudes, because the weather systems up high are often unpredictable and fast moving. Check the weather before you set out. Check it twice. Then, as you’re gaining, check in with your natural surroundings, keep an eye on the sky, and notice when temperatures start to change rapidly. Also, don’t be afraid to turn around if the weather gets to hairy. Nature will still be there tomorrow.

Remain Calm and Confident
Adventurers have been going on solo treks for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. John Muir was known for his solo wandering and often wrote about the peaceful solitude that comes with being in nature alone. Based on his writings, it can be assumed that Muir felt confident and adept in his surroundings, even when summiting Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

The antidote to fear, for peak-baggers, is practicing your skills, staying calm, and being confident that you are capable of responding to a variety of situations on the mountain.