Thanks to Boston Globe reporter Nestor Ramos, and others on the Globe staff , we now have some insight into the final hours of 32 year-old mountaineer Kate Mastrosova (The Young Woman and the Mountain, Boston Globe , February 22, 2015). Most news reports have identified her as the “hiker” who died during a February 15th attempt of the Northern Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
But “hike” is too gentle a term for what Mastrosova had planned for her President’s Day weekend. The traverse route is difficult enough in the summer, during the winter months it requires mountaineering skills and equipment in even the most benign weather window. And the plans of the Wall Street stock trader clearly did not call for waiting for that type of weather.
Mastrosova made her way as far as the 5,794-foot peak of Mount Adams , in subzero temperatures and worsening wind conditions. She attempted to abort the traverse and return to her starting point — but the hurricane-force wind physically lifted her body and blew her off the trail. She died there alone.
Many of the media comments about this tragedy have focused on that last point — that Mastrsova chose to travel alone.
For those of us who often travel alone in the outdoors, almost always in much less
dramatic circumstances, the message is clear — going alone is dangerous.
Outdoor organizations unanimously warn their members about the danger of traveling alone. For instance, the Appalachian Mountain Club urges hikers and paddlers to pair up for their outdoor adventures. And wilderness cruising for the solo paddlers is definitely discouraged by all the authorities.
It’s hard to be alone these days. Humans are social animals and have been drawn together into groups since the beginning of the species. But out of that entire long history it is only in the most recent century that being alone required more than simply wandering out of sight of our campfire, home, village or settlement. We have evolved into animals that must make a conscious, sustained effort to separate ourselves from contact with our own kind.
That space, that degree of separation from other people, allows the solo paddler or hiker to connect with the natural world in a unique way. The heightened senses and the intense focus on the surroundings bring a clarity that cannot be found in the presence of companions. The effect is difficult to explain — but it is deeply felt and has a lasting impact.
Is it dangerous?
The famous canoeist Bill Mason, who wrote Path of the Paddle in 1984, once made a humorous comment about that question. He had spent virtually his entire adult life on extended wilderness canoe trips in the Canadian bush– most of them as a solo paddler.
Mason wrote: “I would be the first to admit that it can be dangerous, almost as dangerous as driving your car down the highway at 50 mph and passing within six feet of another car going in the opposite direction at 50 mph. Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we do, yet we drive every day without giving it a second thought. I’ll take my chances in a canoe anytime…”