Dangerous Heights: We need to respect local mountains

A culture wrapped up in snapping the next best photo encourages locals and tourists to take risks they’re unprepared for

A wide angle photo of the rocky Golden Ears Mountain ridge.
Responsible recreation should extend beyond our trail practices alone and towards Indigenous justice. PHOTO: Lukas Mann / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

For those living in BC, local mountains may appear accessible enough to negate their risks. Towering peaks over 1,500 meters high are an hour’s drive from most major cities, and can be summitted in three to eight hours. What sounds like an alpine hiker’s paradise is also what contributes to a yearly influx of millions of outdoor enthusiasts entering our province, many unprepared for danger.

The outdoors is for everyone, but certain precautions must be taken to ensure nobody gets hurt. New hikers might be unaware of the famed “ten essentials” designed to remind people of the tools needed for emergency survival. These include things like extra clothing, a first aid kit, food and water, and a light source. Others might intentionally overlook certain essentials in favour of packing light. While it’s easy to assume you won’t be the “unlucky” one, accidents can happen to anyone, regardless of ability or experience.

Another aspect of safe outdoor recreation is researching your destination beforehand. Some rocky peaks require extensive experience to safely travel, and even then, they’re still dangerously exposed. In the winter, research is especially important as an average of 23 people die in BC every year from winter recreation accidents. Avalanche skills training courses are crucial to navigating snowy backcountry terrain, as is keeping an eye on avalanche forecasts.

Danger doesn’t always come from exposed peaks or unstable terrain, though. The Grouse Grind was named one of the top 10 most dangerous hikes in the world because it’s underestimated by unprepared hikers. The challenging 2.9 kilometer trail is almost entirely vertical and can catch unsuspecting travelers off guard. According to Outside Magazine, over 80 technical rescues, meaning rescues that involve targeted skills and gear, occur on the Grouse Grind every year.

With high temperatures like we’ve seen in recent years, hiking also becomes more strenuous. North Shore Rescue (NSR) issued a warning during last year’s heat wave after an experienced hiker passed away from heat exhaustion while hiking Crown Mountain. NSR urged hikers to “be realistic” about their activity in the heat, and to bring double or triple the amount of fluid they think they’ll need.

Most importantly, BC’s hiking culture often overlooks important Indigenous histories. From mountains being named after colonizers who never even visited BC, to hikes that travel through sacred Indigenous territory, being aware of our impact on the land we travel is paramount. Our research should involve looking into local Indigenous rules and regulations, as well as their histories.

For example, t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en (popularly known as Black Tusk) has a rich history for the Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh Úxumixw. The ancient stratovolcano spire is said to have formed when a Thunderbird flapped its wings angrily in response to quarreling between two villages. This caused the volcano to erupt, which buried the village of Spo7ez in a landslide. Survivors returned with the message that everyone needed to work together to foster peace.

Viewing locations like t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en as a mere photo destination perpetuates colonialist attitudes about nature that exclude Indigenous peoples. Respecting these mountains involves taking precautions while we travel, like packing out litter and protecting plant life by sticking to official trails. However, our efforts only scratch the surface unless we make an attempt to understand the cultural significance of Indigenous land. Only then can we truly appreciate the beautiful landscapes we’re surrounded by.

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