I had just zipped up my sleeping bag, let out that long sigh before falling asleep, when I heard a loud crackling sound. “Barry, did you hear that?”, I said to one of my buddies who had not yet fallen asleep. “Yeh, sounds like something out in the woods – dragging something…something big.” Silence. Then a loud BANG rang off the walls of Mt. Tijeras, across the lake, then echoed for several long seconds into the night. Fireworks. Who hikes in seven miles with fireworks?
Looking back, I wish I had bucked my comfort, threw on my pants and searched these guys out. There was a fire ban in Great Sand Dunes National Park that weekend. Just a few weeks earlier, about 6000 acres burned in the Medano Fire. We had a lot of rain the few days prior, but the tree tops get dried out fast by the wind. It turns them into a tinderbox. But I stayed in my warm bivy. On the way out, we encountered a couple young guys in blue jeans (sure sign of the inexperienced in the backcountry) who didn’t have a map or a real plan – but they asked us for advice. We stopped and gave them some ideas on a less exposed area to camp that had a water source. They pointed to some ridges they wanted to cross-over and we let them know that we had been up there and that it probably wasn’t a good idea.
The fireworks and these guy’s questions reminded me that we who have experience in the backcountry have a real responsibility to educate. Certainly, it has to be done with a graciousness and patience. But we were all there once – naive, novices, or maybe just plain stupid. Someone showed us the ropes or just showed us what was wrong and what was right.
I’d love to hear your stories. Maybe a funny encounter on the trail where you were able to “drop a little knowledge.” If you have one, drop it in the comments below.