November 7, 2012

A buddy system while hiking may help keep you alive, but so might simply staying at home

When anyone slips that pack on their back and enters a wilderness area, they are taking a certain amount of risk. Terrain, weather, critters and the possibility of going off in the wrong direction can all present issues that could inevitably result in death. On the other hand, slipping a seat belt over your shoulder and driving onto a freeway can also have a bad outcome.

A 54-year-old  hiker was found dead last Saturday afternoon in the Jemez Mountains. According to a KOAT 7 news report out of Albuquerque, the experienced hiker was found at the base of a 120 foot cliff. Family members of the hiker contacted the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department late Friday evening, saying the man had not returned home from hiking that day. The report goes on to say that “the hiker was believed to have been hiking alone.”

"It was just a tragic fall off to the side of the mountain," said Search and Rescue Commander Joe Ryder. "He was taking some photos, we think. Not sure exactly."

"You need to have a buddy system," said Ryder. "Walking in the wilderness alone like this can lead to some tragic incidents."

I could be way off base here, but I don’t think so. I’m not sure how a “buddy system” could have kept this hiker from falling to his death, as that appears to be what happened. Would a buddy have told the hiker to be careful as he approached the edge of the cliff? Maybe, but would that simple gesture have saved the man’s life – probably not.

If the hiker’s death was related to a health issue, such as a heart attack, then maybe a buddy could have helped. It is difficult, however, to see how a buddy might have helped this particular individual if death was caused by a fall from the cliff.

Is a “buddy system” a good idea when entering the woods – yes. Is it necessary? I sure hope not.