You can see the billowing clouds closing. That postcard-perfect day has now turned to tar-black. Like a predator stalking its prey, you’re almost out of time. What had turned out to be a average forecast is now looking dire from where you stand. You’re almost at the top though, just a bit further and you can turn back then. It’ll be worth the push, right?
Spend enough time outdoors, fail to pick the right weather, or just hit the wrong set of variables, and you can often face a scenario like this. Whether its a failure on your part, or just bad luck, the circumstances that force a turn around, a retreat if you will, can be numerous.
With ever increasing numbers heading outdoors, often from urban environments with little outdoor experience and thrusting themselves head-on into adventure, we need to be clear that it’s OK to turn around. Its OK to retreat.
And here’s why.
WHY IT’S OK TO TURN BACK
The drizzle had annoyingly continued through the night. We were on our way to go canyoning in a local canyon I had descended many times, but the constant rain had swollen it to a level I was unfamiliar with.
This would be the first time I learn a very valuable lesson.
The voluminous water, bright white with bubbles, had made me a little nervous but I continued on nonetheless. When we encountered the first major abseil, the trouble began.
Narrow rock passages with high flowing water commanded respect. I thought back then that I did respect it, I was a little scared after all, but real respect should have warranted a quick turn around and escape before even starting.
What followed was a several hour epic of trying to make it through the rest of the canyon in one piece. Retreat was no longer an option. The canyon was now inescapable.
That decision should have been made right at the beginning.
And while watching someone in our team struggle to get past a water hazard, falling and tumbling in the water that was akin to a washing machine in its viciousness, I felt very helpless in my lack of awareness and experience in dealing with it.
Things could have gone very wrong. I had made it past the obstacle but was now near hypothermic from waiting, and all alone with no way to get back and help.
Luckily, no one was hurt and we made it through by the end of the day. Just.
In the weeks afterwards, I scoured for techniques to help make me more in control of a situation like we had encountered. These I found and learnt, but the biggest lesson of all, one which takes practice and experience to really understand and apply, is this;
Its OK to turn back.
There were other options for the day we could have done. The rain had played on my mind but I ignored it.
Its OK to retreat.
The trick is to be honest and admit it. It might just save your life!
EXAMPLE REASONS FOR RETREATS
Sometimes the reasons to retreat or turn back might not be very obvious. After all, it takes experience to become familiar with different environments. To give you an idea, here are a few:
► Starting a trip later than planned
► Not having enough experience
► Group members not having enough experience
► Weather, both predicted and current
► Not having the right gear
► A small injury that could get worse
There is also one other big factor which I feel deserves its own little mention. Summit fever. The desire to make it to the destination or goal, no matter what. Blinded by the objective, you forget all else. It’s taken its fair share of lives.
To combat this, we stay honest. Honest to ourselves, our abilities and the abilities of the group. We stay honest about the weather and our gear. If it looks bad it probably is.
Don’t sugar it down.
So no matter what outdoor activity you are doing, be honest with yourself, the terrain, and the conditions. It’s OK to turn back. The outdoors will still be there.
Lets all apply some #honestyintheoutdoors!
Happy and safe adventures!