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What was your scariest experience backpacking?

I'm asking this question for a couple of reasons.  First, swapping stories is fun, but more importantly, I think we can learn from each other through hearing how others dealt with experiences and maybe helping come up with better solutions where appropriate.  I think this topic can also help remove some of the fear from those who would like to backpack but are uncertain of themselves by providing solutions to potential unexpected events.

OK, so I will go first:

Brian and I were backpacking in the North Fork region of Glacier National Park.  We started at Bowman Lake and hiked the approx 40 miles around to Kintla Lake.  For those who have never been there, once past Bowman Lake, the trail becomes very rugged with some very steep sections, lots of sheer drop-offs, and nothing but excellent views.  The weather had been beautiful with the days being much warmer than we had expected.  As we were heading into Boulder Pass, which is at about 7500 ft, the weather abruptly turned for the worse.  The wind really picked up with gusts that were tunneling through the pass.  We still had some sheer drops along the trail, and lots of uneven and rocky footing.  As the wind gusted, which it did almost constantly, Brian, several times, dropped to his knees to keep from being knocked over the edge.  I had my hiking poles and I turned into the wind, bent over and planted my poles as best as I could and braced.  When the gust would pass, we'd both quickly start moving as fast as we could trying to get into the pass.  Once we made it into the pass, the rain started.  We took shelter in some rocks, got out our rain gear and moved as quickly as we could through the pass, still having to brace against the wind.  Once we got to Boulder Pass wilderness camp we quickly set up the tent, strung up our food, and crawled into the tent.  About the time we got into the tent, the rain started coming in sheets.  High wind and pouring rain all night.  ( I don't remember what we did about supper that night, but I know for breakfast the next morning we had trail mix in the tent, a big no no in bear country.)

We had checked the weather before we headed out and had expected cold and dry weather; what we got was warm and sunny with one very scary storm.  As I read this, it doesn't sound so scary, but I remember being really scared once I was settled in for the night.  I didn't have time to be scared in the thick of it.

Found Myself Outside
12 Replies

Two scary moments that I still think about :

1) While in Alaska, we were in a National Forest birding and a bear cub came running by.   Immediately we moved as far away as possible.  Did not want to meet Mama bear!

2) While in Florida, we were at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and heard a hissing sound.   We then realized an alligator nest was nearby and Mama gator was signaling a warning.  Made a quick u-turn and moved out of the area away from the nest.   


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I had a truly terrifying encounter with the most dangerous and unpredictable creature in the wild these days.

Years ago (1958 or so) I and my companion decided to try a new route to the summit of Weaver's Needle, a prominent spire in the Superstition mountains, closely associated with tales and legends surrounding the Lost Dutchman Mine.  It would be my first attempt at lead climbing.

The climb itself went fairly smoothly.  It was not a first ascent, because at the "crux" I found a rusty piton sitting in the crumbling rock.  We celebrated out success at the summit and descended the normal route, heading back on the trail to our vehicle.

I had just some offhand remark about the Needle didn't get us and now all we had to do was look out for the Lost Dutchman when we rounded a bend in the trail and encountered two men perched on a boulder, their pistols pointed directly at us.

"What were you doing, climbing our mountain?"  they asked in a not very friendly manner.  I went very submissive, stating that we were just poor but honest climbers and they were welcome to search our packs, etc.  Finally they said we could go, and we boogied!!

Until we back at our vehicle and on the road, I kept anticipating a shot from ambush, a crawling, creepy feeling....

Weaver's Needle is within a National Forest and is open to unrestricted public entry.  A few months after this encounter, there was an armed encounter between two groups of treasure seekers, one of which was probably the two we encountered and fatalities occurred. Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service closed the area to mining/prospecting activities.

I never made a second ascent of the Needle.

I have seen mountain lion tracks covering my ascent tracks while returning from a hike.  I'll take that any day....




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As an AZ local, I always warn out-of-towners that the Superstitions are named that way for a reason, and no one seems to believe me.  This sounds like part local legend, part ghost story, and I absolutely believe it to be true.  That’s definitely a frightening wildlife encounter for sure.

... she said, dubiously.

They all involve stream crossings and I'm too freaked out to talk about them.

My wife and I were hiking in Western NC and she was out front.  She noticed a momma bear and cubs and this was the first time she had seen a bear in real life. She immediately dropped to a knee and tried to bring the bears in closer.  (Shes from the PI and forgot that momma bears are dangerous).  I got up there quickly and pulled her back slowly...then went and changed my pants 🙂 LOL 


Another time about 5 miles from that point my brother and I walked up on a copper head (Way to close)....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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Yikes! @Gary2 

When we were in Joshua Tree, Brian almost stepped on a rattler.  I heard it rattle and looked up and he had his foot in the air.  Needless to say, he didn't put it down and got out of there.

When we were on Cumberland Island, we saw snakes that looked like coral snakes.  Didn't know if they were coral snakes or if they were the look alikes, or some of both.  We treated them all as if they were the poisonous coral snakes and steered clear.

Found Myself Outside

A few years back I was soloing Silver Star in the N Cascades. (The goat picture in my icon came from that same mountain - different time.) There is an ascent up a small glacier that ends at a col between two summits. I had been ascending into a ceiling of clouds. The instant I took my first step off the glacier, a low roll of thunder came from what seemed close by. I had been looking forward to taking a break, but immediately reversed course back down the glacier. It began hailing, quickly filling in my tracks. I could hear the loud tapping on my helmet. The lower I got, the easier I breathed.


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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Years ago I was doing a solo climb-hike at Monte Grande, an Andean mountain 11,600 ft high in the Coquimbo Region in Chile. I started hiking at around 6pm, since I wanted to avoid the heat of late Spring, and also because in order to get to the mountain I had to start by crossing some private lands and preferred to do that in semi-darkness. The idea was to spend at least one night at the mountains.

After a few hours of hiking very steep terrain in darkness, with my headlamp off to save energy, I decided to stop for a breather. I was about to take my backpack off, when I noticed two small subdued "lights" uphill, about 20 ft away. Then, another pair of "lights" opened up, and blinked, so I knew that I was looking at two smallish animals, although I couldn't see what they were. The problem was that yet another set of eyes opened up just above the other two, these last ones bigger and taller.

Now, there are no large dangerous animals in Chile, except for mountain lions, which live across the whole territory. And they have "mountain" in their names for a reason. I couldn't see anything in the dark other than the eyes, but all this information quickly crossed my mind. Slowly, slowly, I stated walking back, taking my sweet time with each step. I didn't turn on my headlamp. When I estimated that I was at about 200 ft from the animals, I finally turned to find my trail again. I never knew what kind of animals they were.

Farther. Higher. Longer.

While backpacking the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Maryland a few years ago, we were rolling into our campsite one night, and noticed a solo guy with a LOT of gear was already there.  He was pulling a foldable kid's wagon, taking up the entire picnic table and had an enormous campfire going, seemed excessive for just himself.  He shared with us that he has been walking & pulling his heavy wagon since Cleveland, Ohio and he's heading to DC to "March on Washington", and got himself really agitated really fast by saying it.  I responded with "Well there's a lot of that happening these days", and he offered to share his dinner with us.  We politely declined and attended to our own dinner and got ready for bed.  Soon after, another solo hiker came rolling in and was setting up his camp all the while talking to nobody.  After setting up his tent just halfway, "Talks-to-Tent" engaged in a very spirited conversation with "Wagon-Guy" by the fire. 

My hiking partner and I decided to get our water filled up before bed so we can get out of there extra early (and extra quiet) the next morning before Wagon-Guy & Talks-to-Tent woke up.  Naturally I didn't get much sleep that night, but I was thankful nothing happened when we got out of there before sunrise the next morning.