Help! What Would You Do in an Outdoor Emergency?

**This is a guest post from Chris, aka The Last Adventurer.**

On the second pitch of my second climb of the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak, the sound of frantic, panicked crying shattered my concentration. During my fourth climb of Mt. Shasta, I came across a man who was grasping his trekking pole firmly, but had his ice axe strapped to his back in the steep snow/ice covered chute of the Red Banks. On my second climb of Mt. Rainier, I came across a group of disoriented climbers at the base of the Ingraham Flats who weren't following the marked route. And innumerable times when backpacking, I've seen people who needed first aid, directions, food, or water.

What do all these situations have in common: well, for starters, all of these people needed help. The crier?  He was a stuck solo climber on the fourth pitch of the Southeast Buttress. Mr. Multi-Pole-Axe? He was an inexperienced mountaineer trying to summit Mt. Shasta; as were the group on Rainier. Most importantly, these people needed help because they were neglected and or ignored by their fellow climbers/backpackers/mountaineers.

There were two groups of climbers a pitch, and a pitch and a half in front of me on the Buttress that day. They were roped in, conditions were good, but both groups passed the crier without saying a word. I know, because I would have heard it. Mr. Multi-Pole-Axe? He was in the entrance of the Red Banks where a logjam of mountaineers were ascending and descending. No one said anything to him. The Rainier climbers? I was in the third group out of Camp Muir that morning. Neither of the two groups ahead of me said anything to them. As for general help, one of the coldest things I've seen was a person telling another person to, "drink out of the stream; you won't die; I'm not sharing my water".

A fall from the Southeast Buttress would have been fatal. But the first two groups kept going even though they knew that climber was in distress. If the mountaineer in the Red Banks had slipped, he would not have been able to stop his fall with his trekking pole. He would have slid hundreds to thousands of feet downslope, which most likely would have been fatal. Of the ten people around him, no one said anything. The group on Rainier could have fallen into a crevasse. The guy that had to drink from the river? He could have contracted giardia.

Mountain Climbers

All of these situations have one other thing in common: I helped all of those people because no one else would. I don't consider myself a hero for doing what I did in these situations; or many others where I rendered assistance. I consider myself a human being for doing what was right. The only positive thing I think about myself based upon these incidents is that I am stockpiling what I call "GMK". Before I define that, let's talk the outdoors. It is undisputed that the outdoors is more popular than ever. There are more people on the mountain, on the trail, and everywhere else. Do I wish that everyone who now loves the outdoors has my skillset, honed over twenty-five plus years of work? Yes. Do they actually have it? No. And that's why these situations occur.

I also know why people don't help in these situations: they don't think it's their job; or they think someone else will. That mentality is wrong.  In my experience, the rule for assisting other climbers, hikers, backpackers, mountaineers, or anyone else is simple. It is this: you should always assist your fellow outdoorspeople unless: 1) Doing so would place you or your group in jeopardy; 2) You lack the skills or equipment to assist the person and/or your assistance would do more harm than good to them; and 3) wilderness or other rescue professionals are already on the scene.

Outdoor Emergency

If you think about it, this rule is nothing but wilderness common sense. But forget common sense for a second. Let's talk zen, good balance and everything else. This rule also goes to the concept of karma, or as I like to call it good mountaineering karma ("GMK", or, if you are hiking or climbing, good hiking or climbing karma," GHK", or "GCK"). This covers the fact that in addition to doing the right thing in the wild, you're accruing positive vibes for your life. Furthermore, if you think about it, most outdoors activities are inherently risky; and at some point, you're going to need that good karma you've accrued, because you might need help. I know I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't received help on a couple of occasions, so this modified concept of do unto others as you would have done to you is definitely applicable to everyone in the wild. So, always remember: if you see someone in the wild who needs help; give that help; its common sense and GMK for life.

-Chris is a ninja mountaineer, hiker, climber, skier, surfer, runner, photographer, general explorer and much more! He shares information regarding hiking, climbing, and whimsical stories on his blog, The Last Adventurer.

What do you think about helping people in an outdoor emergency?
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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