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Dan McCaslin: Safety on Hiking Trails—The Challenge of “Adjacency” | Outside

“Adjacency” (not adjacency) explains a crucial hiking issue that hikers should anticipate, but I’m afraid some casual hikers may not have considered.

Adjacency in our new Anthropocene era defines how densely populated California urban areas sit right next to wilderness areas and nature preserves.

Within the nearly 2 million acres of the Los Padres National Forest, five specific wilderness areas collide with the coastal foreland (including the city of Santa Barbara as well as Goleta, Ojai, much of the Valley of Santa Ynez and Solvang). When local hikers rush into “the wild”—activities I have celebrated for more than 45 years as a teacher, hiking leader, and outdoor columnist—it’s easy to forget that it’s actually comes from wild areas, even though they are close to the city. Perhaps. I realize that readers may think, “Oh, isn’t that obvious, Dan?!

Wallace Stegner called the American West an “oasis civilization,” and he was right to point out our limited water resources and the huge distances between cities. However, at the time he describes (Stegner died at an advanced age in 1993), the settlers not have cell phones, emergency beacons, or Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue available.

Let’s look at a tragic case in March 2014 along the Cold Springs Trail when two-day hikers hiked about two miles toward the base of Tangerine Falls (Montecito) late in the day. A hiker, Saylor Guilliams, 22, suffered serious ankle injuries, and her friend and partner, Brendan Vega, 22, tended to her after dark. Many of us have hiked Tangerine Falls, where the paths are notoriously convoluted and even deceptive, including several sections with steep drops on one side. Unable to get cell reception, after dark, Vega valiantly set out for help – imagine, the car is known to be no more than two miles away, only two miles away.

One story I’ve heard is that the couple used their cell phone’s only light to see in the cold, dark night and thus drained the battery. I know there are places along the Cold Spring Trail where there is occasional cell phone reception, but by the time Vega might have wandered into such a place, the battery was dead. Eventually, the next day, casual hikers heard the woman moan for help and contacted SBCSAR, who rescued her (two broken ankles and a broken wrist). As they exited, rescuers then spotted Vega’s body on a ledge 20 to 30 feet below the sketchy trail.

This situation highlights the challenge of adjacency in our time.

I confess that adjacentity is my own neologism, a new word intended to highlight this new situation in our turbulent Anthropocene era. Today, many more of us are crammed into expanding urban and suburban areas. It is the time of the megacities with 37 million inhabitants in Tokyo and another 30 million in Delhi. With so many people stuck in booming cities, many suddenly become frantic to escape the city limits and flee into the nearby hinterland.

Vega and his friend were extremely close to Mountain Drive and the Cold Springs Trailhead, and they relied on cellphone technology as well as proximity to a road, neglecting to appreciate the late hour at which they are gone and the cold March weather. Because it was late and cold, unfortunately there were no other hikers around to hear their faint cries for help.

We have a much less dense population in California than in Japan, of course, and I’m old enough to remember when the state had 14 million people (1957), when today it’s officially 38 million, but certainly more in fact. We trapped humans need to get out into the raw wilderness, bringing our families, but some of us forget that there is little middle ground between the city and nature.

Locally, we may sing our “rush outside” mantra and head into the arid backcountry like the San Rafael Wilderness, but this new trail safety issue has emerged: proximity awareness helps define the challenge.

In our early 21st century postmodern confusion and intentional chaos, as human walkers we face situations where raw nature now directly abuts the urban area, with little or no intervening terrain. Haven’t you heard of the bear in downtown Solvang or Winchester Canyon? Last year I saw a big bear scurrying through Campo Alto on Mount Cerronoroeste, and reader William Fincher sent me a photo of a June bear wandering along Trespass Trail (Gaviota Peak) .

We are complacent and honestly disrespecting nature when we tell ourselves that our proximity to “civilization” or our cell phones and distress beacons mean we don’t have to take precautions in the environment. savage. An example is that my colleagues at Partners in Preservation are still assuming that technology will somehow fail and prepare for all cultural resource searches, just like in the good old days of the oasis civilization where you are really alone when you are “out there”.

Rattlesnake Canyon shrouded in mist, with Gibraltar Road above.
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Rattlesnake Canyon shrouded in mist, with Gibraltar Road above. (Photo by Dan McCaslin/Noozhawk)

Let’s play it again: we are faced with situations in nature where the outrageous expansion of the human population (8 billion homo sapiens!) drives our habitation sites deeper into the dangerous regions of nature; for example, the mountain lion that mutilated a boy in Gaviota State Park in 1992. The adjacency is there, and we have to take it into account.

Scenarios do arrives where day hikers are alone, cellular technology fails, you forgot the distress beacon (or forgot to pay the monthly bill online), and no one knows where you fell. What is your plan then?

Do you have a plan for such an eventuality? Bears and mountain lions are now our close neighbors and are in fact the least of our problems there. To stray even a mile or two into true wilderness unprepared can be deadly. Lack of proximity awareness disarms the unwary hiker. Note the very tragic event on Trespass Trail over Labor Day weekend. Who hasn’t watched YouTube replays from night cameras showing mountain lions leaping around various yards in Montecito?

Personally, I feel terrible considering the recent on-track deaths of Jake Parks and now Tim Sgrignoli – and I’m also referring to the March 2014 tragedy mentioned above. In 2012, I left the Santa Cruz Trail on the last day of a seven-day trek and, fittingly, my trail partner I had separated from called SBCSAR when I missed the meeting point. you expected (Alexander Saddle). I finally arrived at the Upper Oso camp on my own, much more chastened and wiser.

Proximity makes us think we’re still in town and allows overreliance on various communication technologies. We must keep the “old” safety guidelines up to date: go with a partner, properly equipped, inform others of the trip and the time of your return, carry water, understand the weather conditions, understand your own limits physical, take it seriously even if “only for two hours”.

In an important sense, taking raw or wild nature seriously is also practical for your survival, as we see today. In addition to proper equipment and training, understanding proximity will prepare you psychologically for the rigors right next door to home.


» Adjacentcy also describes the situation, for example, in Los Angeles County with the 75,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy trail area, or how 4,300 acres Griffith Park in Los Angeles is the largest US city park with a nature urban wild in the United States (and hundreds of cougars).

— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone anchors in antiquity and has written extensively about the local hinterland. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available on Lulu.com. He is the Archaeological Site Steward for the US Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes readers’ ideas for future Noozhawk columns and can be reached at [email protected] Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.