It’s been noted that venturing out alone on a hike, a winter one in particular, increases your risks. But just because you have a buddy with you doesn’t mean your risks are eliminated, or even diminished for that matter. Just as it takes work and a deliberateness to take care of yourself while hiking and climbing, it also requires something of each member of your party to be useful. Vigilance and understanding over all else, and a shared responsibility as well, are all important.
Vigilance and Understanding
Pointing out your buddy’s open pocket, a misplaced glove, dropped litter, or anything of that sort is the stuff of good companions. Keeping your eyes open towards those on your team can help everyone involved, even the environment in the case of the dropped litter. And it can be even more serious (though a misplaced glove could be a nightmare without some backup):
For example, frostbite can be a problem that is easy to deal with if only team members continually look for it. A white, waxy-looking patch of skin on the cheekbone or nose is the first sign. Simply putting a warm hand over it for a few seconds then covering up the area with something protective is all it takes to solve the issue — before it becomes serious. Again, this requires vigilance and understanding from our teammates since we’re unable to feel this happening to ourselves. And there’s more.
Hopefully we know the characteristics of those we are with, at least on a cursory level. (For guides and other outdoor leaders it’s a little harder since we guide so many new people, but it’s important.) Observe a team member’s nature so that changes over time may be apparent. If, for example, your buddy is a positive, upbeat, happy individual but toward the afternoon he or she becomes uncharacteristically grumpy, there could be serious reasons behind it. Perhaps they are feeling pain, have an illness, maybe weariness is draining them, or maybe their behavior is due to hypothermia. Are they fumbling, stumbling, grumbling, mumbling, or shivering? The “umbles” can be an important clue. At the onset it’s easy to deal with a lot of this.
It’s not always hypothermia (or illness, pain, or weariness) that can make your buddy do some weird stuff. Some folks just lack common sense and will do some things that to others will seem foolish at best. As their buddy, your job is to look for areas where they may use poor judgement and talk them out of it. “Hold my beer and watch this” is not something you want to hear on a hike. And if this is a regular occurrence, it’s probably time for a new partner.
Just as team members must each share the responsibility of being vigilant and understanding, there are other ways responsibility must be shared. One example is gear. Redline Guides Mike Cherim and Bill Robichaud, being close friends, did the majority of their winter 48 as a team of two. They not only shared in the task of looking out for one another, but they also planned ahead as it concerned group gear: Mike carried this, Bill carried that.
The sharing of responsibility is evident in other areas, too. Quite simply, showing up on time and communicating well with your party can be a pretty important start to being a good hiking buddy.
If you really, really want to be the best hiking buddy ever, one sure way to the top is to offer to buy beers and burgers after every trip. To a point, this act will forgive a lack of vigilance and understanding, as well as a lack of shared responsibility. In fact, a buddy that always buys the beers and burgers may even show up a little late. As it concerns the safety of the team beers and burgers alone fall short of what’s really needed out there, but it’s a place to start.
Be a friend.