By Audrey Fraizer
A couple dozen “20-somethings” Yoga enthusiasts schlepped mats, music CDs, and water bottles a mile up a strenuous trail in the east bench of the Wasatch Mountains in north-central Utah. Not far behind them was a barefoot hiker hopping from rock to rock while apparently leading a group of teenagers, each in a pair of slick-soled sandals that were causing them to slide one foot back for every three feet they advanced on the scree.
Next came the moms and dads straddling babies in carriers on their backs and tugging the hands of two- and three-year-olds noticeably perturbed by parental expectations, young women lugging purses, and a dog off leash despite watershed restrictions.
It was your fairly typical Memorial Day weekend crowd on the popular Bell Canyon trail—a steep climb (about 900 ft. elevation gain/mile) to two waterfalls at distances of about two and three miles, respectively. I was in a group coming down the trail, and the ones entertaining the weird looks no doubt attributed to our packs, light hiker boots, trekking poles, and CamelBaks. We had hiked an additional mile past the waterfalls to a high alpine meadow still covered by snow despite warming weather.
Even without planning to hike the extra distance, no one from our group would have left home without what we call the 10 essentials. Some of the items might seem more bother than practical, especially for a traditional holiday hike; however, as stated by The Mountaineers out of Seattle, Wash., the “ten Es” originators: “You won’t use every one of these items on every trip, but they can be lifesavers in an emergency, insurance against the unexpected.”
We’re not stodgy hikers. Rather, we prefer erring on the side of caution and carry the essentials to compensate for unpredictable weather conditions, accidents, and falling off the trail. Nine times out of 10, none of us will pull out a map or compass, but on the 10th time, getting on the right path will save us from turning on the flashlight to find our way out in the dark.
Bell Canyon is an “up and back” hike, which makes it tempting to lighten the pack by removing the navigational stuff. We don’t. It’s also a misnomer to think that a trail labeled as a “day hike” means throwing caution aside. Numerous people have been injured and killed in Bell Canyon because of slip-soled shoes or misjudging ability. Three years ago, a preschool teacher lost her footing while traversing a creek several feet above the falls. Her body was found wedged between the rocks below, and she was a solid hiker.
No one can control how someone else approaches the outdoors, and no one—despite what the pack holds—is guaranteed a protected trip. The unexpected does happen. That’s the reason for 9-1-1. Not that three numbers give us the “right” to flaunt precaution, but when bad things happen, it’s good to know you’re out there with the essentials to help.