Being willing to change the plan as the context evolves
In late February, 2015 I went on a 4 day 3 night backpacking trip from Marshall Gulch trail to Wilderness of Rocks trail to Cathedral Rock trail to Esperero trail. The distance is 18 miles or so, and demands a rigourous hike on day 3 up Cathedral Rock trail.
When the plan was designed, it was anticipated that we would hike between 4 and 5 miles per day, so the first day put us about 2 miles behind plan. In addition, we were tired from not sleeping the first night, so we ran out of gas at about 4:30PM this day too! But having lost the trail for better than an hour, the distance that we traveled the second day was less than we had hoped again two days in a row. The first day we covered about 2 miles, the second day we covered about 3.0 miles. So with 2 days out of 4 in the hike, we'd only covered about 5 miles, and so we were about 4 miles behind plan as of the end of day 2.
If we stuck with the original schedule that meant that we would need to cover 5 miles the next day with climbing 1,500feet to Cathedral Rock, even though we hadn't covered more than 3 miles in either of the first two days with less than 500 feet elevation gain on either of the two days.
Upon reviewing the maps, I decided that either we needed to add another day to the itenerary, or we needed to shorten the distance from 18 miles down to about 14.5 miles to compensate for the days distance that we lost. I noticed that if, instead of going across on Cathedral rock, where the trail was notorious for being difficult to follow, and we could end up getting lost on the trail, plus the added 1,500 in elevation, and 5 miles of distance, if we turned right instead of left at Romero Saddle, we could instead go down Romero Canyon, and for our third night, camp about a mile down Romero canyon where the trail parallels the creek. That means that we would need to hike about 4.6 miles on day 3 and about 6.2 miles on day 4.
But day 4 would be all down hill, and day 3 was mostly down hill too, so, it seemed like we should be able to accomplish this replan if we set our minds to it. I decided that I should discuss this with Dan and Cheryl the next morning, and we could make the final decision that afternoon when we arrived at Romero pass, and see how we felt about the replan at that point, even though I felt that it was a foregone conclusion that we would probably opt for the Romero Canyon reroute.
The reroute meant that we would still have to hike 4.6 miles on Day 3, and 6.2 miles on day 4. We hiked 5 miles in the first 2 days, and now we would need to hike another 10.8 miles in the next 2 days, more than twice the average miles per day! Still, I felt that the conditions were better, and that we would be unlikely to get lost on the Romero canyon trail, or have any other problems that would cause significant time delay.
The bottom line is when you are in a wilderness, things will happen that will violate the assumptions in your backpacking trip plan. When this happens you MUST consider what the impact will be of that change in context and determine what it means to the safety and well being of everyone in the group. If there is an issue, how that problem can be mitigated, and what the new plan is going to be that will mitigate the risk or problem.
It's all about the necessity for dynamic risk management for the safety of the group in a wilderness area when the unplanned happens.
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Last Update: April 27, 2015
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