My last backpacking trip of the year had been dogged by a series of stupid mistakes. My last mistake could easily have been fatal, but as is usually the case when I do something stupid, I was lucky and got away with it. Until possibly one day, I won’t. Fortunately for me, all I ended up with is some damaged gear and a bruised ego. It’s a timely reminder to not get too complacent when I’m out on the trail.
So, what were the mistakes?
Tipping over my alcohol stove and spilling burning fuel
I was lucky that I was on a non-flammable pebble beach at the time
On Day Two I forgot that my alcohol stove was unstable in heavy wind and it blew over. That was plain stupid, and I was lucky that I was on a non-flammable pebble beach at the time. I have got into a habit of setting up the stove, lighting it and everything’s fine. I didn’t take any account of the conditions.
Burning a hole in my new down jacket
A quick application of duct tape prevented the loss of the down that had not been burned away
Also, on Day Two. At the end of the day, I was mixing up my hot chocolate in my mug next to the alcohol stove, which was busy boiling the water. I suddenly noticed the very obvious — if you’ve ever smelt it — odor of burnt hair. I inspected my hands. No, they’d not been near the heat, and as I turned them over, I saw that I’d let my new — super expensive — down jacket get too near to the stove. The outer shell had burned and melted. A quick application of duct tape prevented the loss of the down that had not been burned away. There was only a small damaged area, but I could have set the whole thing on fire. Not good.
Not allowing for ‘run-off’ when I set my tarp
I was surprised at how much the tarp material stretched with the weight of the resulting block of ice
Setting my tarp on Day Three — the pictures here — I set the side facing the hollow low to the ground to keep out the cold wind I was expecting. Wanting lots of headroom for making breakfast under the shelter of the tarp the next morning (Day Four), I set up that side of the tarp high and flat. Too high, and too flat. I woke up to find that the night’s rain, hail, and snow couldn’t run off the tarp and had collected into a big frozen pool in the middle. I was surprised at how much the tarp material stretched with the weight of the resulting block of ice.
And finally, falling out of my hammock
I was lying dazed on the ground, having taken the brunt of the fall on the back of my head
This was the stupidest, and potentially most dangerous mistake I made. I fell out of my hammock. It sounds funny, and I’m sure to a bystander it would have looked hilarious. For me, one moment I was sitting sideways, legs dangling over the side of the hammock, and the next I was lying dazed on the ground, having taken the brunt of the fall on the back of my head. I lay there, legs entangled in the hammock, trying to take stock of what had happened and if, and how much I was injured.
This has been my first full trip where I’ve not used a winter cover or bug net on the hammock — both of which force you to climb in correctly. I can only presume that I grabbed the back edge of the hammock (instead of the nearest, leading-edge), pulled it forward, and sat on what was the outside of the hammock with nothing in place to catch me and provide support. Then as I leaned back, with no hammock sides to stop me, I fell straight out the back.
Normally this would not be an issue. But, I’d set the hammock higher than usual to get it up out of the wind, and I was on the side of a very steep hill, so I actually fell some 4-5ft. And the most dangerous aspect of this act of stupidity is that that the ground there is littered with huge rocks. My head just missed the big rocks that can be seen in the above picture. If I’d landed on any of them, I might not be here writing this now. My SOS beacon was inaccessible, hanging on the hammock ridgeline, and if I’d been unconscious that wouldn’t have been of help anyway.
Had the worst happened, Ginger wouldn’t have been concerned until the next day when I didn’t signal ‘all okay’ in the morning. She would probably have thought that I’d forgotten to send a message or she may have messaged me, to find out if all was well. But that would have been over 14 hours later, not to mention the time it would have taken to get to my location, another 4-5 hours? At least thanks to my beacon — Ginger can request an update on my position — and folks would know where to find me.
Just to add insult to injury, when packing up camp, I noticed a couple of holes in my new under quilt protector, out on its second trip. It must have dragged across some of the rocks in the fall and torn. Another new piece of gear damaged.
- Pay attention to what I am doing and the impact of my surroundings and the weather.
- Be very careful around the stove or fire with my down jackets (or anything flammable).
- If there is rain in the forecast (and even if there isn’t), set the tarp so that rain has a way to run off.
- Just be more careful.
- Always carry my SOS beacon on my person, If it’s hanging in my hammock and I’m incapacitated on the ground, I might as well have left it at home.