Push up and over the pass despite the weather and risk death by lightening or hunker down and wait out the storm? Let your buddy keep hiking with a rib injury and risk a punctured lung, or turn around and hike out? Which direction should I pitch the tent to best weather the storm that’s blowing in? One Advil or two? There are a lot of decisions to make in the backcountry.
On July 5th I made a bad decision.
A few years ago I was hiking with a group that came to a roaring river crossing. We waited half a day hoping the water would lower overnight when colder temperatures slowed the melting of snow up steam. When it didn’t we spent another half a day hiking around it. Five miles away, as the crow flies, another group decided to try and push through a bad crossing. They didn’t make it.
Water is one of the leading killers in the backcountry. With a 30 pound pack on your back, flowing water no deeper than your knees can turn into a deadly obstacle. This last season I was hiking with Rich and Tom when we descended into Matterhorn Canyon and had to cross Matterhorn Creek. I’d stopped to fertilize some bushes so the men were a few minutes in front of me.
When I made it to Matterhorn Creek there was a man about my age hiking down the far side of the stream looking for a good crossing. I could see Tom on my side, hiking upstream, almost out of view on his search for a decent crossing. Unless these two were missing something, there wasn’t a decent place to cross within a ¼ mile. So I decided to just cross where the trail crossed.
I dropped my pack and sat down to take off my boots and socks. When I stood up and hefted my pack back on my shoulders I didn’t fasten the waist belt or chest strap. If I did fall, I didn’t want to be strapped into 30 pounds of dead weight. I hung my boots off my pack, grabbed my hiking poles and stepped into the water.
Matterhorn Creek is the site of one of the worst decisions of my life.
Oh, it wasn’t the water crossing. The water was less than a foot deep at its deepest and it was barely moving. It was just annoying that you had to take your boots off and get your feet wet. No, my mistake was far graver.
The man who’d been looking for a crossing on the other side came back up to the trail and we started talking. We chatted for half an hour, sitting in the grass next to a pristine stream deep in the backcountry of Yosemite. He was cute, smart, and he wasn’t confused by my sarcasm. He loved backpacking and wasn’t threatened by a woman who was charging through the backcountry too. We talked effortlessly.
Why in the world I just let him walk away, I’ll never know. I didn’t give him my number. I didn’t even get his name. I didn’t tell him he should come hang out with us in Mammoth in a week on our layover day. It was the worst decision of my trip.
So if you know a guy from the bay area who was hiking towards Benson Lake on July 5th to celebrate his birthday with a can of oysters for dinner give him my webpage. I think I was supposed to marry him.