5 Trail Fails — And the Lessons They Taught

Getting outdoors is good for both the body and the mind. The fresh air, charming birdsong and stunning vistas are downright therapeutic. Typically, a morning hike or an evening paddle goes off without a hitch. From time to time, however, we are faced with unanticipated hiccups or road blocks.

While most of us don’t wish for extra challenges on the trail — a steep hill is plenty enough! —unexpected mishaps often make for the best stories. The following folks know exactly what we’re talking about. Here are five examples of adventurers messing up on the trail, and what they learned from it.

May their wisdom help your own explorations!


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“A group of friends and I were biking a trail between Pittsburgh and Washington DC. We were on a stretch with no services when one of our members got a flat tire. We fixed the tube. An hour later, it went flat again. So two of us left the group to bike hard for 40 kilometres — through pouring rain and six inches of thick mud — to the next town to fetch a new tube. And then we rode back again. The big lesson? Check your gear before setting out.”

Mary Ann Thomas, writer and travel nurse

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“My first solo hiking trip was a hut-to-hut trail (which is essentially a trail that features rustic accommodation). On the first evening, I was making dinner in a communal area. I failed to correctly attach the stove to the propane canister and when I ignited the stove, flames started shooting out the valve of the canister. Having little experience with such a situation, I froze. Thankfully, some quick-thinking German hikers managed to grab the stove and extinguish the flame with a towel. Now I always triple check to ensure the stove is properly attached correctly!”

Daniel Baylis, writer and photographer

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“I was out hiking with friends. After a few miles of walking in a dry riverbed, we found a cave up on the canyon wall, and decided to go check it out. I climbed out on a ledge at the entrance to get a better view of the canyon below, but I chose a handgrip that crumbled out of the wall the second I put some weight on it. I fell off, about four metres to the ground, and shattered my right heel. The ensuing helicopter ride was kind of fun, but the surgery and four months on crutches wasn’t. My mistake was not paying attention. I learned that the routine moments where you let your guard down are often the most dangerous.”

– Aaron Cederberg, communications officer at Abraham Path Initiative

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“On my first sole journey on the Camino de Santiago (Spain), I took a 60-litre backpack and filled it. By the time I arrived to St. Jean Pied de Port, where I was to begin my 800-kilometer walk, I knew I had to lighten my load. So, I removed two books, some clothing, and some other items. Then I looked at the giant tube of toothpaste I had packed and came up with a great idea. By tightly rolling the bottom of the tube, it squeezed out three quarters of the toothpaste. I now lead groups on the Camino and encourage them to pack lightly! (And I bring a very small tube of toothpaste.)”

Sue Regan Kenney, writer and trail guide

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“Preparing myself to hike the West Coast Trail, I wrapped my head around the near certainty of rain and mud. What I didn’t expect though were all the trips, slips, and, especially, falls. One of the notable incidents happened on the very first day: I slipped off a wet log and slid down an embankment. Fortunately, my backpack acted as a cushion and I landed unharmed — perhaps not the most graceful, but think of a turtle on its back. My takeaway: slow down and be as present as possible on the trail.”

– Faizel G., lawyer


Interested in applying some of this wisdom to one of the newest sections of The Great Trail? Located just south of Banff, The High Rockies Trail stretches for approximately 80 kilometres and will be open for public use in 2017!