Remember that nature and the elements are neither your friend or your enemy;
they are actually disinterested.
– Department of the Army Field Manual FM 21-76 “Survival” Oct. 1970
As I sit here, there is fifteen inches of snow outside. More snow is currently falling.
I have a cup of hot tea and I seated at my kitchen table. I am warm and dry. The heat is set at a conservative level.
Technology and modern conveniences are making me comfortable on this cold and snowy Colorado night.
At an earlier time, the amenities I have currently would not exist. The wood stove would need to be stoked. If I was lucky, there may be a kerosene lamp or two as I write (not type) my thoughts and I would be under my heavy blankets very early in the evening. The citrus fruit I plan on having, from my refrigerator, for a nightly snack would be an unheard of luxury in February.
I recreate with less technical wonders. But at the end, my employment, my life and the hot shower I look forward to after every trip are products of modern technology.
Modern technology is good.
Even in the backcountry, technology keeps me warm, dry and fed. Some machine stamped metal parts make up my stove and some refined petrol delivered via a complex transportation system fuel it. I use a nylon fabric shelter made from petrochemicals to keep the snow off me as I sleep. And all it is all paid for with a job that is directly working in technology.
But, in the backcountry, it is not wise to depend on technology and gear. Or even outdoor specific skills at times.
Making the rounds on social media, is the recent tragedy in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. A young woman set out to hike an ambitious itinerary. The Whites are infamous for severe weather ,despite their low elevation, compared to other places in the world. On the day the person perished, the temps dropped to -30 F in temperature and the winds reached up to 100 MPH.
From the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR)
Through a combination of poor decision making, bad luck and technological failures, a person perished.
Some of the factors include:
- Not bringing snow shoes
- Going above treeline
- Summiting a mountain despite the weather
- Making the decision to turn around after the weather worsens and after she is presumably exhausted
- The PLB not being accurate in the extreme cold and making an accurate rescue attempt difficult
- A delay in the rescue itself due to the weather
I am not going to re-hash the ongoing debate about technology in the backcountry.
However, when these tragedies do come up, it does make a person pause.
Even with the right gear and technological safety equipment, tragedy can happen.
Ultimately the best gear is the gray matter between the ears. Namely knowing when to turn around, when to check a person’s ambition and knowing when to call it a day.
The mountains don’t care how driven a person is or what tools they brought with them.
With every tragedy such as this one, it is good to reflect.
Technology and gear only go so far. Even having athletic ability and outdoors experience can be dangerous if it gives a person too much confidence.
Know when to call a trip and live to come back another day.