Opinion: A wake up call for hikers

By Kati Cooke | January 24, 2019 7:08pm

UP Alum warns hikers to always be prepared.

I set out on my hike just like I always do: excited with a camera in my hand. I was by myself, but that’s normal for me. I’d done it a million other times – it was just another walk in the woods. But it wasn’t.

On Nov. 3, I set out to hike McNeil Point. I was armed with hiking boots, a light jacket, my Canon, my phone, some water and some snacks. The hike was supposed to be seven miles round-trip. I had a screenshot of instructions someone posted online. About a mile into the hike, I took what I thought was the right turn. Nine miles later, I realized that I had taken the wrong trail and reached a different summit, Yocum Ridge.

It was beautiful, and I wasn’t feeling tired yet, so I didn’t worry. Using Google Maps on my phone, I decided to take a different route back to my car. It looked shorter than the way I hiked in and I estimated just a few hours until I made it back. I still had a couple hours of daylight, so I thought I would only have to hike in the dark for about 30 minutes. That was fine; I’ve hiked in the dark before, and my phone had a decent flashlight.

I was in a hurry, hiking 19-minute miles on my way back, trying to beat the sunset as much as I could. However, before I knew it, it was pitch black and the trail had disappeared. I was lost in the woods, in complete and utter darkness, with no one else around to hear my screams, no cell service and a phone with nine percent battery. 

I screamed for help at the top of my lungs. I tried calling 911 even though I knew I wouldn’t have service. I crawled, jumped over trees and walked knee deep through the Sandy River, trying to find the trail. Eventually, I found it and continued back to my car. At that point, my phone had died, and I was using the light from my camera screen to see just the two feet in front of me. After hiking almost 30 miles in one day, I made it back to my car. 

I drove until I got cell service, and my phone lit up with frantic calls from friends and family, as well as the local police. I later found out that search and rescue was called and were on their way to the trailhead when I made it back to safety. I was hypothermic, bruised and traumatized, but I was safe. When they got the call about me, they had been looking for another missing hiker. She was not as lucky as I was.

I am not telling my story because it is a fun adventure or survival tale. I am telling it as a warning. I have been hiking regularly for about two years and now I realized that, with how unprepared I was, it was only a matter of time before something happened. Since this huge wake up call, I bought a Garmin handheld GPS and I took a class at REI on the Ten Essentials (you can find the list here: https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm). 

If you hike, I implore you to be completely prepared. I know that carrying the Ten Essentials is heavy, a handheld GPS is expensive and paper maps are old fashioned. None of this is even compares to getting lost. I know you think, ‘Oh, I’ll never get lost, I hike all the time, this isn’t even a difficult hike, etc.’ I used to think all that, too. I was overconfident and so set on getting that perfect Instagram picture of the summit that I risked my safety, risked the safety of the search and rescue team, and put my loved ones through hell. Take a hiking safety class at your local REI. Utilize the UP Outdoor Pursuits office. And if you have any questions or want advice, please reach out. Go out and enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but please be safe out there. 

Kati Cooke is a 2018 UP alum and can be reached at cooke19@up.edu.