HIKING AND CLIMBING are two terms that are frequently and erroneously interchanged by both the media and participants alike. This not only leads to confusion as to what activity is actually being discussed, but has led to misconceptions on the dangers of both hiking and climbing.
Many of the recent so-called hiking accidents did not involve climbers but hikers who went off the designated trails and onto terrain that required technical climbing knowledge/experience and got injured or trapped imitating climbers. Hence the confusion.The following news items are examples of many similar occurrences:
- BOISE (AP) - A 19-year-old Boise hiker who fell on a steep rock slope in the Sawtooth Wilderness was saved early Saturday in a dramatic rescue by helicopter and a team using climbing ropes . . . The area is at about 9,000-foot elevation on 70-degree slopes said to be too difficult even for mountain goats to use . . . the trio of "totally inexperienced" climbers was taking what they thought was an easier way down from a hike, said Robert Heffner, an assistant paramedics supervisor and one of the first rescuers to reach her.
- PROVO (Deseret News) - The father of a stranded hiker who was rescued Tuesday from Squaw Peak in Rock Canyon . . .
These accidents did not really involve hiking but rather improper attempts at climbing. Hikers who try to become one-day climbers (without training or equipment) are the real problem.
When does hiking turn into rock climbing?
Hiking vs. climbing can be confusing, if only because mountain climbers usually have to actually hike the approach to begin their climb. But hikers don't get trapped on rock ledges or cliffs - there are no hiking trails in such places.
According to Allen Sanderson, a Salt Lake climber and former climbing instructor, a person has ceased hiking when he is no longer on a marked trail and has to use both hands and feet to keep going. Sanderson said that the term climbing implies technical climbing, requiring specialized equipment and knowledge.
He said that "scrambling" is the transition point where the terrain becomes steep enough that hands are required for balance. Scrambling is kind of like jogging, the transition between walking and running.
Sanderson also stressed that location is important when considering hiking vs. climbing. He said the lower end of Little Cottonwood Canyon is mostly a climbing area while the Storm Mountain area in Big Cottonwood Canyon and also Provo Canyon's Bridal Veil Falls area are hiking meccas (which also contain technical climbing areas). Hikers have problems when they get off the trail in these areas.
Imitating a climber - doing a technical climb with no experience - is a big danger that causes needless injuries, Sanderson said.
Technical climbing can be broken down into two distinct areas, according to Sanderson. There are rock climbing and mountaineering. Rock climbing takes place on rocky faces, such as those found in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
In contrast, mountaineering is similar but takes place on big mountains that are typically snow covered and have dangers all their own such as avalanches and extreme cold. He said the Cascade Mountains or Mount Superior near Snowbird would be good examples of mountaineering locations.
Some tips for safe hiking
1. Never hike alone. Always have a companion along and avoid getting separated. If hiking in a group, avoid playing "chicken" and taking unnecessary risks into climbing situations.
2. Always tell someone exactly where you are going and when you will return. It does little good to tell someone you're going up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Be more specific on the area so that in case of an accident, you can be located more quickly.
3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Carry plenty of water and have more than adequate clothing, water, food, flashlight, first aid kit, etc., in case of an emergency.
4. Be familiar with the area you're headed into; take topographical maps along.
5. Stay on the trail! Most problems occur when hikers get off the trail on a so-called shortcut and end up climbing instead. Anytime a stretch of trail involves a scramble, stop and assess the situation. Consider the dangers and the length of the incline.
6. Remember it's always easier and safer to go up a steep slope than it is to come down. Don't take chances by going beyond both your abilities and equipment. If you do become trapped on a steep slope/ledge, it's better to stay put and wait for help than to take a chance on falling.
7. If you want to mountain climb, get the proper equipment and training first. Hikers who venture spontaneously into mountain climbing without equipment or experience are probably little different from a person who tries to fly an airplane without pilot's training.