How I almost died on a mountain

Next time you go hiking, don’t ask me to come with you

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If you’ve stepped foot in western Virginia for more than five minutes during your lifetime, you’ve likely noticed two things — there are a lot of mountains and a strangely disproportionate number of people who like to climb them.

I’ve never quite understood exactly why that is. Can’t we just relish in our trek up the stairs of our apartment complex and call it a day, sans fear of death?

But sure, strap on your backpack, throw on some tennis shoes and go for it. If you want to climb a mountain, I won’t be one to stop you. 

But don’t ask me to go with you.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain beauty to the whole rugged, earthy vibe — if you want to feel earthy, which raises a few questions for me. I can appreciate that certain people enjoy climbing mountains — like some people enjoy slamming their hand in a car door or using AT&T as a cell phone carrier. Those folks cite things like independence, being “one with the land” and feeling “free.” Personally, I can get all three of those by watching “Planet Earth” and neglecting all personal responsibilities while cracking open a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. 

Now you may be thinking, who is this jaded person? What led to my embittered state? Does anyone really care? Maybe.

I almost died on a mountain.

Before you feel bad for me, I wasn’t entirely close to death. More tangential. Like seeing Death across the street and dipping down a side alley. Just a tiny brush.

It all started out so well. I dragged myself up to the beginning of the trail, stared blankly at a sign which warned of recent bear sightings and decided today was the day to really live on the edge. I took my first fateful steps onto the trail. Some might call this adventurous — most would call it terrible decision-making. I call it my brain deciding to choke my neurons and short out completely.

Three hours later, I was meandering along the trail, making good time along the faintly outlined path. I only fell twice — better than my daily non-mountain-related track record — so I was feeling great. For a moment, I understood why people liked this whole mountain thing. 

And then I realized that, in my blissful ignorance, I made three fatal mistakes.

I realized the first mistake when it dawned on me that I didn’t bring food or water. Oops. I guess I thought, because I wasn’t a hiker by trade, that I was somehow exempt from basic human survival requirements — water? Pshh. Granola bars? Nope, I only encounter those when I’m impulsively buying “healthy foods” at Target and then letting them slowly expire in the back of my cabinet. 

Second mistake — it’s getting dark. And the thing about never actually being in the wilderness prior to this moment is that it’s really, really dark. Where are the humans with their artificial light production? Why aren’t there built-in nature lights?

Third mistake — the little path outlines are gone. Am I in bear territory? Will I be walking this path until my survival instincts kick in? The bigger question — do I even have survival instincts? I kind of want to sleep. 

All of these things converged to send me into a sudden panic. I had no cell service, no water and no hiking experience. What would Bear Grylls do? He probably wouldn't do what I did.

I saw a helicopter, climbed up onto a flat rock and waved my hands around like I was drowning on land. I’m sure the whole thing was amusing to watch.

Anyways, the helicopter folks didn’t save me. 

I realized that I needed mountain knowledge and common sense — both of which I was sorely lacking. In that moment, I did the thing I hate even more than my newly-acquired hatred of hiking — I ran.

And I kept running until, rather anticlimactically, I literally ran into a parking lot. I turned around, and there it was — a sign mockingly announcing that the trail I just came from was closed for the season. I wondered why. Was it the lack of trail markings? The bears? The generally unpleasant proximity to nature?

Luckily, my harrowing mountain adventure has left me with more than just a strong inclination to avoid all forms of nature. I also have a word of caution for all aspiring hikers — don’t repeat my mistakes! If you’re going for a hike, you should bring food and water. Most importantly, bring common sense and a healthy fear of large carnivorous creatures. 

If you want to climb a mountain, I won’t stop you. All I can do is highly recommend that you don’t. 

Savannah Page is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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