A recent thread here asking about personal locater/satellite communication systems quickly devolved into a discussion about safety and whether one should ever hike solo or should always hike as a part of a group. As usual, there were good points to be made on both sides of the issue. Weston1000 seemed to feel that one should never go out alone; to him/her, the dangers of doing so are unacceptable. On the other hand, Aimless and Oregon Mouse both made the point that one can compensate for most of the subjective and objective dangers with a cautious approach, having a keen appreciation for one’s limitations, having proper gear and having some sort of satellite communication device available. To be sure, solo hiking can be more dangerous than hiking as a part of a group. But, in my mind, there are many tradeoffs and that lurking question of just how much safer one is as a part of a group. For the record, I am strongly introverted and much prefer solo walking.
Like OM, I have been backpacking and mountaineering in the mountains, deserts and canyons of the western U.S. for a long time, for me since about 1946. I consider myself to be reasonably experienced, at least for this region. For backpacking trips I prefer to be alone; my mountaineering adventures have mostly been as a member of a small group
Every “adventure” or accident with which I have been involved has been as part of a group. Moreover, the few times I have been called on to render first aid/medical assistance to other hikers the victim has been part of a group. As an aside, when I was in the Army, I received intensive, hands-on, medical training with much of it focused on trauma – I’m definitely not an MD though. In my experience, few hiking group members are trained and mentally objective enough to deal with real trauma; hysteria is not an uncommon response regardless of gender.
One of the problems with groups, from my perspective, is the potential for personality conflict when accidents happen or danger threatens. Too often, for example, a mountaineering group will decide to continue an ascent in the face of a thunderstorm even though the most experienced group member strongly urges retreat (I’ve been there). The decision to continue leaves the dissenter with three unpleasant choices: continue with the party; remain where he/she is; or make a solo and potentially dangerous descent. None of these choices are good. A solo climber would most likely not even be on the mountain and would certainly turn back if confronted with this.
And, in my experience, it is not uncommon for someone in a group to forget some important item of equipment, a stove for example. With campfires banned in the western U.S. almost every summer now the forgetful one will expect to borrow stove and fuel from others in the group. If like me, the others in the group carry only enough fuel to reach the end of the hike so they are unlikely to be happy with sharing; I once camped near a group that faced this very issue and a literal screaming match ensued. I prefer to avoid confrontations.
Oregon Mouse brought up the subject of group pace. That has always been an issue for me as well. When I was young and full of P & V, walking as a group member was irritating because there was always someone who wanted to walk half my normal pace. Now, at 80, the situation is reversed. I can still walk pretty fast but am more prone to injury from strains and falls if I push. If I were to walk as part of a group I would now be the one doing the irritating. I much prefer to walk my own safe, comfortable pace.
So, add me to the sample; “n” now equals at least 3. I think that for a well-equipped, fit and experienced hiker, going solo is only marginally less safe than being a member of the typical hiking group. One item of equipment I now consider essential is some sort of satellite communication device. My preference is the Delorme Inreach but I also use a McMurdo Fastfind for short trips. So, like Oregon Mouse, I feel certain that I experience far more risk on the drive home from the trailhead than I do on the trail. These are just my thoughts, though, so HYOH.
May I walk in beauty.