May 31, 2013

Getting the Finger (part 3 of 4)

Attempt #3 - In a word: helicopter

Helicopter Search and Rescue over Finger Rock

My third pilgrimage was set for August, when there would be approximately zero chance for snow.  However, the frozen precipitation would have been a welcome relief from the sweltering heat.  Deciding to do a strenuous day hike in the scorching Arizona Summer, was the first of many foolish decisions that I made that time and I would like to share them with you in hopes that you can learn from my mistakes:

  1. Desert Summer day hiking - As I read that to myself, it seems like a no-brainer, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  It's not that hiking in those conditions is automatically foolish, it just requires an immense amount of forethought and preparation, which we did not do.
  2. Stick to the plan - We had originally intended to do a much less difficult hike, but changed plans to the Finger on the way to the trailhead.  You should always let someone know where you're going and when they should expect you back.  Deviating from the plan is never a good idea.
  3. Know who you're hiking with - I had invited a friend of mine to come along who was from a much flatter part of the country that I had never hiked with before.  In the wilderness, it's important to not only "know thyself", but also to know those who are with you.  Overestimating the capabilities of someone in your group can put everyone in danger.
  4. Bushwhacking is tough - Not long into the hike, we lost the trail and decided that we would just bushwhack our way to the Finger since we had it in our sights.  It may look exciting to watch Bear Grylls do it, but it's a whole different ball game when you venture off the trail and we did not prepare for that.
  5. WATER! - A good rule of thumb is to plan on needing about a liter for every hour that you expect to be on the trail.  Often times that will be more than enough, but it's infinitely better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.  One member of our group only brought a 20 oz. bottle of Aquafina, and that should have eliminated him from the hike right then.
  6. Humility - Having been defeated by a goal that I had set twice before, I let my pride get the best of me and I pushed on when I should have called it a day.  Recognize when you're in over your head and don't push your luck.
By now you've probably guessed how round 3 went, but I'll summarize it for you anyways.  After losing the trail and bushwhacking for seven or eight hours in the Arizona Summer Sun, we ran out of water and one of our group began to get dizzy, lightheaded, and weak.  There was no way he was going to be able to make it back to the car on his own, so we dialed 911.  Thanks to the amazing folks at the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the volunteers at the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, we made it back to our cars via helicopter and my dehydrated friend slowly regained his strength one Gatorade at a time.
Arizona DPS Search and Rescue Helicopter

Was I foolish?  Yes.  Was I ashamed of having put my friends' lives in danger? Absolutely.  Was I embarrassed for having used a significant amount of taxpayer funds, not to mention peoples' time, on something that was totally avoidable? You bet I was, and still am.  I am sharing my third attempt at the finger, which was a failure on multiple levels, because I sincerely hope that you never have to share in that experience.

On a related note, Tucson's local news station KGUN 9 recently did a story where they asked whether it is time for Arizona to enact a "Stupid Hiker" law, similar to what Colorado has and New Hampshire is pursuing, that would require rescued hikers to pay for at least part of their rescue. On the one hand, the simple fact is that rescues cost money, but at the same time, we may not want people who are in trouble to be afraid of calling for help because they think they'd be unable to afford the bill.  What do you think about that kind of law?  Let us know in the comments.


To read the rest of this saga, check out the links below:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

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