It's been sunny, so I've been hiking.
Some days, it's better to turn back 072314 OUTDOORS 2 For the CCW It's been sunny, so I've been hiking.

Jeff Lund Photo

Behind this group of college friends from Arizona is a beautiful summit. Climbing on hands and knees through fog didn't seem like the smartest plan, so I turned us around. ()

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Story last updated at 7/23/2014 - 4:22 pm

Some days, it's better to turn back

It's been sunny, so I've been hiking.

That's not the only reason, though. I've found that hiking is a good relief from the stresses of being a free-agent high school English teacher. So I guess before I get to the point of this ramble, I'll advocate hiking not only for cardiovascular purposes, but also stress relief.

I was on my fourth hike in three days when I came upon a pile of bear scat fresh enough to be alive with flies. A little further up the trail was a dead fawn. I could have continued, but there was a good hour left on this hike - which isn't a popular one. In fact, it's not a trail, it's just an old logging road with an alder tunnel and eventually a view of town.

The dead fawn wasn't torn up by predators, but it was only a matter of time, and that fresh mound of poo made me second-guess continuing. I wasn't afraid of a bear, but it's one of those situations when as a hiker it's better to error on the side of caution than march forward. All I had with me was water, and it wasn't enough to drown a momma bear should it attack me for encroaching on its meal or separating it from its cubs.

On the way back to my truck I thought about the range of common sense I've shown while hiking. I've walked past scat dozens of times, spooked bears in berry bushes, crossed slick logs and ignored "closed" signs. I've had those moments when I'm hanging by roots on wet, rocky drop offs and some like a few years ago with a friend from California.

We were making our way in a forest service trail that ended prematurely. I decided to continue because I knew if we got to the wash, we could take it all the way to the base of the mountains that carved out a beautiful horseshoe.

We didn't hit the wash. I knew if we headed directly east we'd hit the trail, but the alders were too thick and the sky too cloudy for markers. Rather than get more lost, I made the call to follow the stream which met up with a creek which eventually became the river that drained the bowl and intersected with the highway. It added five hours to the trip, then we had to hike the road back to the truck, but it was the safe, sure way out.

I've turned around near the summit before, with a crew of Arizonans who wanted to pick through the alpine but ultimately understood that fog and cliffs don't mix well, even if they are with a local.

You have to make these calls sometimes, because what you know for sure is sometimes just inaccurate enough to get you into trouble. You know the trail is east, but what if your east is really south, and you're running parallel long enough to lose your cool. That's where problems arise and panic rolls in.

Hiking isn't about bravado, well, not exclusively. It's about the enjoyment of an experience you can then tell others about. No one wants to hear about the time you had to be rescued, and taxpayers don't want to to finance something avoidable.

But it does happen sometimes. There will likely be a time when an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman needs assistance. Sometimes there are no warnings, and you happen upon a bear, wolf or a tricky rock that causes an injury.

Life is chaotic.

Making the safe, right call is better than having to make an emergency call.

Jeff Lund grew up in Southeast Alaska and after 10 years in California, succumbed to the pull of home. He writes a weekly outdoors column for the Capital City Weekly. Follow him on twitter @alaskalund