Trail’ology: When to turn back and call it a day

We’ve all heard the horror stories, when summit fever occurs and a trekker refuses to turn back even though their odds of surviving (or reaching the summit) are slim.

Today on trail’ology we’re talking about how this relates to those of us who aren’t epic mountaineers, just normal people who like to explore.

When to turn back and call it a day.

Yesterday we decided to pack the kid’s up and head up into the Snowy Range for a little bit of cross-country skiing. We haven’t skied up Barber Lake Road yet this winter so we decided to give it a try.

There was only one problem. Our adventure didn’t go as planned.

As we unloaded our gear, bundled up our kiddos, and snapped the ski’s onto our Chariot we were greeted with strong gusts of Wyoming wind. The kind of wind that makes you instantly want to move to Colorado.

But, we’re tough Wyomingites so we snapped into our ski’s, strapped on our poles, hoisted the baby up in the backpack carrier, tossed the toddler in the Chariot and started skiing, right into the wind.

The wind was in our faces. It was in our kid’s faces. There were tears, There were cries. We saw two little red faces with tears streaming down them. But, we kept on going, thinking that kid’s would eventually fall asleep. We glided cautiously across the icy snow, noticing how the wind had blown the snow completely off the road in places.

It was miserable. I didn’t even want to take a picture for fear that my camera would blow out of my hands.

After several minutes Al looked at me and said, “are we doing this because it’s fun?” And we made the decision to turn around and head back to the car.

Before we had kid’s Al and I would have toughed it out, too stubborn to quit. But now it seems like we often turn back before either one of us are ready to call it a day.

It wasn’t a complete bust though, the wind blew us back to our car and we didn’t even have to stride and our 2 year old was able to do some fun skiing while we loaded the car.

A lot of times we think that we have to be epic explorers who never give up. But let’s be honest, sometimes if you’re not having fun or if it’s just not safe it’s best just to turn back and call it a day.

Do you ever quit before you reach your destination? When do you turn back and call it a day?

+ Add a Comment

User Comments

  1. Pingback: Trail'ology: "It's hard to get motivated to hike in the winter" + winter hiking tips -Just Trails

  2. Bill Kelly |

    The answer to this question depends on many factors.

    The first factor is how prepared I am to survive on my own. I’ve walked “just a little way” up a trail to “see where it goes” and found myself going further than I felt that I should. I wasn’t really at the end of any kind of real limit. I just hadn’t brought any of the stuff that I want to have with me when I venture up a trail. A stumble can happen half a mile from the trailhead as easily as five or ten miles from the trailhead. If no one is likely be on that trail and I’m not prepared to sit there with a broken leg, I could end up just as dead in either case. While the body extraction may be a little easier if I’m close to the trailhead, I may end up creating the same risk for the rescuers either way because they have to search many of the same ground regardless. If I haven’t brought the right stuff to survive on my own, I make a quick turnaround even when the path ahead should be easy.

    The second factor is ease of rescue. If the entire trail is pretty open and an easy pass or two by a police helicopter is likely to find me, I’m willing to push a little harder. If something happens, I won’t be endangering the search and rescue people much if I must be rescued or my body recovered.

    A third factor is weather. If the weather is likely to be fairly stable, then weather isn’t going to add big complications to either of the first two factors.

    A fourth factor is my health. I’m still learning to cope with hiking at my age and poor physical condition. I’ve begun carrying a pulse oximeter. If I just can’t get my blood oxygen to stay high enough or my pulse to stay low enough, I’ll go back. I’m still learning to define those limits. When I can do a successful walk where I push those limits, then I get fitter for the next one. I just don’t want to put myself or others in danger by going beyond safe limits.

  3. Pingback: Trail'ology: "It's hard to get motivated to hike in the winter" + winter hiking tips |Just Trails

  4. Mark from the Dutch mountains |

    Nice subject again. I know summit fever and I know when I did quit. It is mostly about objectives.

    First objective is to return home safe and sound. You can always return for another try. With a hard six hours back after six hours of going up, I go back when the return time is reached.

    Second objective is to have fun. When the foehn wall breaks and you are almost blown off the ridge by a freezing wind, I don’t go up that last icy and stony stretch to the summit. No fun, no risk. The guide had to admit later, that when something would have gone wrong there, we would have been in big trouble.

    I have a tendency to flee to the summit when in doubt (weather, navigation, time, fatigue). But then, most often, the safest way to go, is back over the same route you came up.

    • Rebecca |

      I agree completely, at the end of the day it’s really about how much risk you’re willing to take. It’s hard to turn back sometimes, even when you know the odds are against you! Thanks for your comment 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ Add a Comment