Learning from tragedy

Around mid-January, a news story caught my attention.  A dad and his two sons, out on the Ozark Trail in Missouri.  Just a day hike, on a day that started out in the 60’s.   Rain comes in, gets colder.  Dark falls, temperatures drop down in the 20’s.   They didn’t make it.  Hypothermia.

Several things caught my attention.  The dad was 36, his sons 8 and 10.  My oldest is 8, I’m close enough to 36.  News story described him as an experienced hiker, a father that took his boys out on all kinds of adventures.   Guess I’d think of myself that way, too.

And, the internet being what it is, the news stories that allowed comments were full of pretty horrible statements about the guy.   They can’t be right about him, though.   I have to think that this is a guy that loved his kids.  He knew what he was doing.  The mistakes he made weren’t huge mistakes – they just added up exponentially.

The last hike I wrote about, I checked the weather before we went out.  Was supposed to be warm that day.   Cool start, but I figured walking would fix that soon enough.  And it did.  For me, but not for Squirrel.  I started out the hike with a warmer coat for him, but he took it off before we changed vehicles.  I didn’t notice.   Thankfully, Kat had an extra for his little guy.  It fit.  Close enough.  And it was fine, until the clouds rolled in.   If it made it up to the 50’s that day, it was elsewhere.   Got cold and the little guy got colder.   Kat didn’t have a lighter, but my little first aide kit had one stuffed in the pocket.   Was enough to get a fire going long enough to warm them back up.  There weren’t any more parallels to the tragic hike, at least not with this one.  I just know how easy it is to make mistakes.  To plan and to see those plans go awry.

I hate that it ended how it did.   I know that man loved his boys.  It is easy to judge him harshly and look back at a dozen decisions that he could’ve made that would have changed that outcome.   Then again, I’m willing to bet there’s good reasons why he chose what he chose.  I don’t know that I would have accepted a ride from a stranger when I had two young kids to watch out for – not if it wasn’t that cold.  Not if it was just a little rain.   Not if I was confident I was on the right trail and warm shelter was just a short walk away.   I know I wouldn’t have carried a flashlight with me, not for a dayhike.  Or even a spare set of batteries if I thought I’d just do a little bit of night hiking.   Or a full set of rain gear on a day hike that started out at 60 degrees with a chance of rain near the end.

But I’m planning an early spring hike. . . with two boys, aged 8 and 11.  And here, like there, we can see days that start out warm and can drop down in the 20’s overnight.  I’ll make sure that the lighter in the first aide kit has plenty of fuel.  Might buy a couple of those lightweight emergency rain ponchos that fold up really small.  Just in case.  I guarantee you I’ll be thinking about that guy and his boys.

This entry was posted in Backpacking with Kids, Random Off-Trail Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning from tragedy

  1. Hind sight’s 20/20. We can always look back and criticize, but in the moment many of us would make the same mistakes.

    Went winter backpacking a few months ago with another couple. When we settled for the night and pulled out their stove for dinner, we hooked it up to the fuel and found it leaked like a sieve. Luckily my husband and I brought our stove for backup but we still lost half our fuel in the process and could have ended up with cold rations. Needless to say, we called our trip short.

    This poor father’s story is a very potent reminder to head out on the trail prepared for anything. Thanks for sharing and being transparent.


  2. Hikerb says:

    Agreed. It was a horrible tragedy and its easy to judge what decisions were made now. Nature, in its self and entirety, is a risk that is often overlooked.


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