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Re: Just Read "Things I learned from Falling" by Claire Nelson

I just read "Things I Learned from Falling" by Claire Nelson about her hiking accident at Joshua Tree.  Nelson was house sitting nearby and decided to go on a day hike.  She got off trail and fell, shattering her pelvis and had to survive basically immobilized for four days before rescuers found her.    Tales of outdoors accidents are  fascinating to read because I always wonder, could that happen to me?  In this case, I would have felt pretty comfortable hiking solo on a well-traveled National Park trail with the pack she took.  Her critical mistake was getting off-trail, even though she had two maps in her pack (she describes using them for sun shelter as she lies immobilized by her injury).   It's pretty clear in the story that she's not especially good at reading maps or navigating, but for the trail she was on that shouldn't have been an issue . Nelson  also had a cell phone, but no service.  She used it to record herself when she thought she might die (never trust your life to a battery, right?).  My takeaway is that she was adequately prepared but something went wrong anyway.   Her tale of survival shows real ingenuity and fortitude, and of course her takeaway is, you should be more appreciative of the people in your life.   The book is a good read.  Has anyone else read it?  What did you think?


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I have not read the book, but I have lots of experience with search and rescue operations, primarily in southern Arizona, 1958-1985.  Obviously, you increase the odds when you solo, but who doesn't, at least occasionally?  I certainly have!

Navigation is a critical skill, and even then, with lots of experience, you can become "confused" now and then -experience speaking...

There is nothing about National Park Service areas which makes them inherently more or less safe that any other wildlands.  Staff capability varies tremendously.  A good many parks rely upon outside groups when extensive SAR is required.  That is frequently a very satisfactory arrangement with good outcomes, but recovery is rarely rapid.  Self sufficiency is always a good idea, even on well travelled trails.

Sometimes, even that is not enough.  Consider the case of Paul Fugate, a NPS Naturalist who left the visitor center to check the nature trail in January, 1981, and hasn't been seen since, despite an extensive SAR that went full blown for two weeks, and continued with specialized operations for months afterward.  The case is still open and unresolved....

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I haven't read it but I will look for it. Thanks for pointing it out.

From what you say it is a good illustration of why it is worth carrying a satellite messenger, particularly if you hike alone in remote places or even not so remote places if you are not sticking to the popular route.  

In the book, Nelson writes that she expected her cell phone would be able to contact emergency help until she had to use it and found out there was no signal.  So she actually  thought she had a communication device to call for rescue.   Also, one problem with rescue beacons is that the expectation that help will come can lead to more risky behavior.


I haven't read it, but it looks good. I just added it to my list. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.