I got into solo hiking as I like being in deserted places, free from egos and reliant on no one but myself, but for many, the act of spending any time alone in nature’s isolation is not worth thinking about.
If you think that getting away from the rat race – alone – is for you, then the first thing to think about are the potential dangers of being in the mountains in general. In the 10 year period from 1996 to 2005 Scottish mountains alone had 3,315 casualties and average 16 hill walker fatalities per year.
If that hasn’t put you off and you still want out of the house for few days in the mountain air, consider doing a risk assessment. Running through worst case scenarios in your mind can help you prepare for the trip and all it really takes is common sense.
Take a six-hour walk as an example: You could be three hours (say, nine miles) from your start point when you fall and break your leg (unlikely? 44% of the above casualties were limb injuries, and over 90% of those were legs and feet). If the area is remote, what happens if no one passes by? Add the fact your phone has no reception … ouch!
Did you tell someone where you were going and when you expected to be back? You still have three hours before they consider making a call – four if they leave an hour for late arrival. If the weather turned foul, did you know it would? Perhaps they need to rescue you on foot – that’s another four hours to locate you, so that’s at least eight hours you have sat motionless in nasty weather. Are you warm enough and have you dealt to your wounds with first aid? If your phone starts to work can you give your position? Do you have a torch to help them locate you in the dark.
This scenario is basic and could, of course, be far worse. Yet this alone provides a laundry list of things to think about when ‘going solo’. Considering your intentions, the terrain and what you have with you will decide whether the risk is managed to a safe degree.
Safety blankets are small, light and inexpensive. I have first-hand knowledge of their use in keeping you warm and increasing your chances of being spotted by search and rescue.
The longer the trip the more planning and preparation you need. Training, route-mapping, equipment and studying the area are a good place to start. The top three causes of incidents are poor navigation (23%), bad planning (18%) and inadequate equipment (11%). And 43% of those 3,315 casualties were in windy conditions.
Training is up to the individual: some tend to have a more natural endurance than others regardless of their regime. You soon know after your first 10 hours of hiking whether you are up to the task. I run for about 30 to 60 minutes once or twice a week and cycle for general fitness. If I am expecting to carry a heavy load, back exercises are thrown in for good measure and I will up my cardio intensity.
Flora and fauna, local weather patterns and outdoor protocol all require research too. In Norway, for instance, I could legally pitch my tent wherever I wanted, stock up on supplies from the nearest hut and pay no mind to the reindeer grazing around my tent. But that may not be the same elsewhere. I could be fined for being outside a campsite, short of calories, unprepared for the evening temperatures and feel under attack from local wildlife. Solo hiking and camping is a superb way of experiencing nature but, like the cub scout motto, be prepared
Note: statistics taken from Scottish Mountaineering Incidents (1996 – 2005) Research Digest no. 102, a research study for sportscotland by Dr. Bob Sharp FRGS. Published by: © sportscotland