There is nothing impressive about being needlessly dangerous in the outdoors. Nothing at all. Being outdoors does have it’s risks and, as outdoorspeople, we accept them and try to limit them. But doing something stupid is just that, it’s fucking stupid. It’s likely that everyone has a story of something stupid that they did in the outdoors, something they’ll shrug off as ‘funny’ instead of stupid.
In 2016 I was working for a month in Japan and decided that I wanted to climb Mount Fuji. It would be the tallest peak I’ve climbed and it was gonna be easy. Doing it in the summer meant that all I had to do was walk up the designated path overnight, sit on the top until sunrise, then walk back down. I had read that it’s a bad idea to ‘bullet climb’, that is to race to the top and give yourself no time to acclimatise to the altitude. But I thought ‘hey, it’ll be fine, I’ll be back at a regular altitude before I start getting sick’. I was very very wrong. I ended up spending a night in my bivvy bag, vomiting over myself, passing out and biting off a chunk of my tongue. With the wind chill, the temperature got down to a balmy -3 degrees celsius which I was unprepared for, giving me a bad case of altitude sickness.
To make matters worse, I was entirely on my own. No one else had climbed the mountain at the speed I had. People who climb it sensibly wouldn’t be arriving at the summit for another few hours and I knew that if I stood up I would have passed out so going down wasn’t really an option. I had never felt so angry and unsafe as I did then and I absolutely hated it.
I was an idiot. I somehow got down safely, got a stupid silly story and had to wash chunks of vomit off my down jacket in the shower back in Tokyo. But it just as easily could have been so much worse. I thought I knew better than almost everyone who has ever climbed Mount Fuji before and I managed to have a somewhat miserable time because of it.
Outdoor activities almost always carry some sort of risks and, usually, we do our best to mitigate these risks to make the fun as fun as possible. We wear helmets, we double check knots, we take first aid kits, we tell people when we should be back etc. And we do this because we want to be able to go out and continue enjoying the outdoors. Of course, it’s almost definite that at some point in your outdoor career you’ll hurt yourself. That’s just the way it goes unfortunately. But as long as you’ve already planned for that eventuality, you’ll be up and going again in no time.
On my Fuji trip I ignored the four safety points that I have always adhered to and it’s obvious to see how I paid the price in each instance.
- tell someone where you will be going and what time you’re expecting to get back. In the event that you aren’t back in time, they can try to contact you to see if you’re okay or contact the emergency services
- wear clothes and carry equipment that is appropriate for the location and the weather. This doesn’t necessarily mean carrying an avalanche probe ‘in case it snows’ in the height of summer, it means being aware of any potential issues that may arise from bad weather and being prepared for them.
- take a first aid kit and know how to use it. Go on a backwoods first aid course, learn things like CPR, know any important medical details about the people you go out with. Knowing trauma first aid has helped me and some of my climbing partners before and I’m sure it will again.
- part of going on an adventure is the unknown, but before you go be sure to at least have a vague idea of a plan. This helps with the first point but is also useful so you don’t get lost, run out of food etc.
But the most important thing you can do, by far, is not be an idiot. It just isn’t worth doing something reckless ‘just cos’ because it can always turn around, bite you on the ass, endanger you and others and spit you out again.