Trail hikers should prepare for adversity

My turn

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Already this summer two hikers have been rescued in Juneau's back yard - one in May near the bottom of the Mount Roberts Trail, the other in the wet weather after the Fourth of July off Powerline Ridge beyond Roberts Peak. On the recent search, about 18 people, several SEADOGS and a helicopter spent two days searching, finally locating the local hiker, Josh Shrader. He had fallen and injured his face and wrist. Happily, his German shepherd Ludwig intelligently retraced his steps down Mount Roberts Trail to the nature center and tram buildings where staff recognized him.

The incident is a reminder that even a fit person with survival training and experience, familiar with the area, can get into trouble on the trail. Mountain conditions in Juneau can turn a great hike into trouble with the twist of an ankle or the disappearance of the trail under a snow bank. Many hikers are not prepared even for good conditions, least of all for adversity.

Every day on Mount Roberts Trail, people warm and exhilarated from the walk up to the Cross confidently move on thinking maybe they can find another great view or reach the top, which remains enticing, false peak after false peak. Cruise ship passengers seem to be younger and to have more children along this year than ever before. After the confinement on shipboard, they are eager for the thrill of ascent. Their enthusiasm is contagious but hazardous. Major problems people get into are dehydration and falls (usually on the descent - getting tired and cold, and hurrying to meet colleagues or to get back to ship).

Smooth-soled shoes cause a lot more trouble on snowfields and on descent than on the trip up. Less experienced hikers do not know that it is hard to come down a rough or slick trail, and that you can cool off fast on the downhill trip.

On the upper Mount Roberts Trail, clouds, wind and rain can happen any time. Depending on the quantities of rain and on the speed of snow melt, parts of the trail go through stages of mud and stream-like condition. Spontaneous hikers frequently avoid slippery muddy parts of the trail by stepping up onto willow and blueberry brush alongside. So in addition to putting themselves at risk, these hikers often give the wildflowers and soil on the sides of the trail a beating.

Remind yourself and friends hiking here in Juneau to be prepared - think about whether you could manage overnight on the trail with what you are carrying. Do you have water and food (well sealed to avoid luring bears), good boots, rain jacket, warm enough clothing for a wind and rain, as well as a map, compass and first aid kit? How are your trail first aid skills? Would rescuers know where to look for you? Do your children have basic survival skills? Do they know the routine in case of meeting a bear? Do they know the word "erosion?"

The Mount Roberts Stewards (a committee of Trail Mix) is a volunteer group working to protect the alpine environment of the trail. The group has developed interpretive and directional signs and a trail etiquette brochure, and has worked on trail improvements. The stewards solicit everyone's help in treading lightly and safely. The historic alpine meadows trail above treeline along Gastineau Ridge provides extraordinary views. Common safety sense and consideration for maintaining the beauty of the alpine area go hand in hand.

Volunteers are welcome for stewardship help and for trail building. Aug. 11 (or in case of hard rain, Aug. 18) will be work days on the trail above the Cross. See (the Trail Mix Web site) and select the Mount Roberts Stewardship Program for more information, or call Alice 789-4852 (e-mail

Alice J. Rarig of Juneau submitted this article on behalf of the Mount Roberts Stewards.

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