You're Plummeting Down a Mountain—Now What?

Of course the time you don't bother to get out your ice ax is when you fall

By Alex Brown

Illustrations by Koren Shadmi

July 8, 2019

I was more than 1,100 miles into my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail when I came to a lingering finger of slush blocking the trail in the Granite Chief Wilderness. It would take longer to put on my crampons and unstrap my ice ax, I thought, than to just walk across.

Plummeting Down a Mountain

After a month of slow progress, I was eager to make up lost time. I took a few cautious steps in the deep wells left by other hikers. I was halfway across . . .

Plummeting Down a Mountain

. . . Then I was halfway down the slope. My foothold had given out. "Of all the things to get me," I thought as I fell. "Laziness." I feared my thru-hike was over.

Plummeting Down a Mountain

I was almost at the end of the snow ramp. Without thinking, I dug my heels into the snow as hard as I could.

Plummeting Down a Mountain

I slid over some boulders—which fortunately were flat—and into a tree, using my knees as shock absorbers.

Plummeting Down a Mountain

I stood up. Nothing was broken, but I got a souvenir road rash on my backside.

This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition with the headline "Derailed Thru-Hike." 

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Ask the Expert

Eli Boschetto is the author of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon.

"No matter how big, small, or repetitive the challenge, it's always better to err on the side of caution. Accidents happen when you least expect them. Alex could have geared up in a few minutes, which would have been less time-consuming—and less painful—than his slide down the mountain and subsequent climb back up."