The Categorical Ten

Another peak experience by Martha Perantoni

I read with dismay another rescue of another ill-prepared hiker on another 14er last week. A party of hikers headed up Quandary, beginning at 11 AM, and while the majority of the party decided not to continue beyond a certain point, one young man went on ahead to the summit. Descending into nighttime, his headlamp ran out of battery power. When he didn’t make a timely trailhead return to meet his friends, they dialed 911 and a rescue was called out.

Okay, what glaring mistake did this fellow make that would have prevented the need for a night rescue?

a) Forgot the marshmallows to roast over the campfire
b) Didn’t chill the PBR long enough
c) Neglected to bring spare batteries
d) Left his campfire songbook back at the truck

Anyone answer anything other than C? D’oh! Do you think this fellow was carrying his Ten Essentials? Not likely.

The Ten Essentials are part of the hiker’s bible. They provide safety gear suggestions from the experienced to the inexperienced and are meant to be taken seriously, particularly here in our Colorado extremes. There are as many compilations of the Ten Essentials as there are compilers. In my experience as a year-round solo backcountry enthusiast, I’ve come up with the following categories to flesh out the list’s intentions and I call them the Categorical Ten in order to expand the list. Trust me: it’ll take the worry out of human-powered travel.

1. Map & compass
Bring a GPS if you want but never leave home without a quad and Suunto.
2. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat
Avoid snow blindness, a Rudolph red nose, and keep all the heat from escaping out of the top of your head. Hats also keep you cooler in the blazing alpine sun.
3. Extra food and water and a water purification system
Focus on lightweight carbs and those packable gooey maltodextrin squeeze jobs. Ask Mark Twight – one of those an hour will keep your energy level going. Dehydration is a huge factor in alpine hiking and a little filter, SteriPEN, or Potable Aqua iodine tablets could keep you fleshed out.
4. Extra clothes and a bivy sack
We’re not talking Texas Gore-Tex, here – at least one extra wicking base layer, a waterproof shell if you’re not already wearing one, extra dry socks, gloves, and hat. Toss in a space blanket or pick up one of Adventure Medical Kit’s drawstring bivy’s. Extremities are the first to succumb to frostbite – keep your feet warm and at least you’re able to walk yourself out.
5. Headlamp and EXTRA BATTERIES!
Get a lamp with strobe capabilities and it’ll help rescuers locate you more easily. Toss in an extra bulb or two as well. Leave the handheld flashlight at home. If you’re in a position where you need both hands and one of them is engaged hanging on to a flashlight, that’s not stacking the odds in your favor.
6. First aid kit
You decide how elaborate it needs to be. Mine is pared down to assorted bandages and gauze pads, alcohol swabs, an ace bandage, surgical tape, NSAIDs, a multi-tool, insect repellant, blister packs and a tube of Body Rub. I can use one of my trekking poles if I need a splint. If an injury needs more than this or I can’t crawl my way of a situation I’m probably going to need a rescue anyway.
7. Fire starter
Make it a stove. I carry an Esbit solid fuel stove – lightweight, compact, and it’ll melt water as effortlessly as any of the small canister stoves. Once that’s lit it will also help light a wood fire. Might not roast the rabbit as well…
8. Matches and lighter
Bring both. In fact, bring two lighters and a bunch of matches in a waterproof container. Lighters don’t always work at altitude and in sub-zero conditions.
9. Signaling device
No, your cell phone isn’t always going to get a signal – besides, that’s cheating. Bring several options – a whistle, a mirror, and a flare.
10. Toilet paper and trowel and Ziploc bag
This has been left off the Ten Essentials for too long and backcountry waste management has become a huge problem. Dig your poo deep, don’t do anything within 100 feet of a water source, and if you need the TP to start a fire, you’ve got it handy in your Ziploc. That nauseates you? Try building a campsite on someone else’s toilet. Ladies, you know those signs in public bathrooms about not flushing your personals? Why would you leave them in the backcountry?

And I have a personal #11 that’s a must – that thing between your ears?

Don’t leave home without it.

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