What it feels like to fall in the backcountry.

I fell on Friday. I’m still shook up about it. Mom, don’t read this.

Deep in the backcountry, I was on a long, difficult cross country route. In an instant I was falling sideways through the air before I made very hard contact with the ground.

OUCH! Oh god no! I let out a scream to alert my partners. Did my arm just break? Did I just rupture a kidney? Thank goodness I didn’t hit my head. Lay still. Calm down. Did I rupture my kidney?? This is bad. This could be really bad.

I fell about five feet. Once you’re falling, you really have no control over how far you’re going to go. Luckily the rocks below were only those few feet away. It could have been a cliff. I could be dead.

Think.. Did I break my back or my neck? What did WFR teach me? I slammed down hard. Really hard. But, I landed on my side. My backpack was protecting my back. No MOI for spine. I think. Move on.

My left arm definitely isn’t broken. Where’s the worst of the blood? My left ankle has a deep gash but it’s not gushing. Where else? I sit up. I need to do a full body exam. I need to see if there is something critical that needs to be addressed. It’s my back left side that hurts. It hurts right at my kidney. Stay calm. Don’t go into shock.

My partners fetch water. They look at my back. They watch. I elevate my leg. I’m scraped in other places but it’s not bad.

I’m pretty sure I can walk. I’m sure no bones are broken. I have a SPOT that we can press and I think about and discuss the signs and symptoms of a kidney injury. Shock too. I think I’m fine.

Washing the wounds is easy and quick. I lay there. Take some photos. I keep calm. I make jokes and act cavalier.

The gash on my ankle, the sore back, the five or six other scrapes and cuts, and two rips in my pack are what I’ll carry out. I’m up and hiking pretty soon. After a few days of very rough cross country travel and peak bagging, I only have an hour to the grass and the trail.

Thank goodness I’m not alone. Thank goodness I’m not that hurt. This could have been terrible.

I’ll think about this fall a lot. Difficult backpacking is still important to me. I’ve tripped before. We all do. I don’t want to die or be seriously hurt out here. I’ve seen that happen. And yet, I’ll continue to do this. Risk is interesting business. I’ll continue to be safe and I’ll continue to take risks.

What does it feel like to fall in the backcountry? It hurts.


A few minutes after my fall, I took this photo to distract myself.


  1. Tom Kirchner

    Good analysis, Jack. You handled it well and pretty well summed up where this kind of thing fits into off trail travel. It is, or should be, uppermost in the minds of all those who venture into difficult off trail terrain, Especially solo.

    Tom K

  2. dan

    Great facebook photos Jack. BPL member here. Whats in the pack Jack? Heading out in September to do the first segment of the Roper Route with another BPL member. Hope you’ve recovered from that nasty spill.

    • Jack

      Hi Dan,

      For this trip I was carrying a Golite Shangri-La 1, Golite quilt, alcohol stove, event rain jacket, BR Alpini parka, GPS, SPOT and a complement of other small things. I’m not much into gear analysis and tend to use what is cheap or free, light, durable and performs well.

      Still recovering for the fall…

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