Why Turning Around is the Boldest Move

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Sean Dix Range

Sean in less that ideal selfie conditions

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Imagine you’re halfway through a planned 10-mile hike, the sky broods and you hear a distant rumble. Do you press on, or turn back? Your decision in that split second can be life-altering.

In our goal-driven society, turning back is often seen as a sign of weakness, an admission of failure. But what if I told you that knowing when to call it quits could actually save your life?

In the adventurous world of hiking, especially in unpredictable high peaks terrain, knowing when to turn back is not just a skill; it’s a survival tactic.

From the mysterious inklings you can’t quite place in ‘Just A Hunch…’ to the unexpected problems of carrying ‘Too Much Gear,’ to the social intricacies affecting ‘Group Dynamics,’ this article explores the multifaceted reasons you might decide to turn back. We’ll even delve into the philosophical ‘Wisdom Of Having No Goals,’ but also touch upon some real talk in ‘The Pizzas Are Calling and I Must Go.’

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Have you ever turned around?

Maybe you came to a sketchy spot, had a safety concern, saw something that spooked you — or, somehow, you just weren’t feeling it any more?

I posted these two questions to my social accounts. The response was immediate — and overwhelming! So overwhelming, in fact, that I couldn’t keep up with the replies that flooded in.

Every now and then I get a little bit nervous
a little bit terrified
every now and then I fall apart
Bonnie Tyler

It took a long time to sort through them all. But once I started, clear themes emerged quickly, with multiple hikers experiencing the same concerns we all face as hikers. 

Sorting all the replies into categories — almost twenty! — has really helped make sense of them.

Below you’ll find everything from basic weather concerns to gear issues to just-a-hunch feelings to full-on creepy feels to wilderness poop stories to animal encounters (including the hell that is other people).

Even a pizza gets a look-in.

But there are also notes from hikers who simply turned around to honor whatever feels they felt in the moment, who made a gut call because it was a gut call. There’s never a bad end to those stories.

IMO, turning around is a much under-appreciated hiking skill. Sensing when you’re done for the day (for whatever reason) might even be the most important hiking skill…?

It took a while to work through it all but this post was so much fun to pull together. What I’d love people to take from it is that

  1. There are a million reasons to turn around, all of them great, but…
  2. You don’t need a reason to turn around — any quiet intuition is all the justification you need.

Following are the best comments I received. Replies have been edited for clarity without affecting their meaning.

we decided to head back with just the one peak

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Weather Changes

Weather, of course, is a huge concern. Even in the summer months, if your skin gets wet, it’s possible to get hypothermia. Turning around when you see a storm brewing, or when the weather shifts unexpectedly, is always the right choice.

My 4th trip to Marcy I turned around shortly before the summit coming up from Haystack due to high winds. The rangers said the gusts were about 80 mph. It cut right through every layer of clothing. Felt like murder above the tree line.
— /u/motion_lotion

I planned on doing the GRT in mid-August and on the way up Haystack, I told my friend that we should just stop after Saddleback, then after getting sleeted on on top of Haystack we decided to head back with just the one peak. We actually had to help out a person who did the Lower Great Range and was severely dehydrated so we knew we made the right choice to call it.
— /u/cdawg15

I took my nephew up Wright for his first high peak. It was a windy day and you could see a storm way off in the distance. A gust of wind knocked him over as we started above tree line. He got back up, and was knocked down by another gust of wind. After the second one, I told him we were heading back. He protested, but understood. The last 15 minutes of the hike back to the car was accompanied by intense rain and lighting.
— /u/arcana73

I was in the UK on business and over the weekend traveled up to Snowdonia in Wales. Looking at the map I had it seemed I could hike the couple of miles over a ridge and either find a B&B or catch a bus back. So off I went. I really have never seen countryside like it. It seemed like I was hiking straight up, but it wasn’t rocky cliffs, just green fields dotted with sheep. How could grass grow on anything that steep? Soon, it started to rain, and soon it started to pour. I don’t think there is anything like the rain in Snowdonia Wales. It is literally as if someone is pouring full buckets of water on your head. How that much water can come out of the sky is beyond me. All I could think of was: If I break a leg up here, nobody knows where I am. I will simply die with all these sheep staring at me. So I turned around and headed back to where I started, found an enclosed bus shelter, and got changed into dry clothes I had in my pack, and waited for the nearby pub to open.
— Catmando

Thunder Rolling In

I’ve never been caught in a major downpour, much less a thunderstorm. I can’t imagine the terror of walking above treeline with metal hiking poles! If you hear thunder at all, it’s always best to turn around and head downhill.

My first high peak. We thought we could beat the weather but with about 500 yards to go up Big Slide we turned around after hearing thunder.
— Anonymous

When we were still engaged, my wife and I got stuck in a surprise thunderstorm on Big Slide. We hid under a rock for an hour or so until the worst blew over, then hustled down. When we came back for it a few months later, we found our rock and it was like our little special place. She framed a picture of it with our vows and it’s on my nightstand.
— Anonymous

Around midnight between Panther and Couchsachraga in a raging thunderstorm. Really didn’t want to have to come back there, but poor preparation forced me to turn back. Wandered off the trail a number of times trying to get back because everything was basically a river. Fun times in the Santanonis.
— Anonymous

Always trust your gut

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Just A Hunch…

Sometimes, you just have a feeling that something isn’t right. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s something…

I was hiking up Long’s Peak in the Rockies and made it to a section called the Keyhole. We didn’t do much research about it beforehand. It looked challenging, but doable. However, my bud and I had a gut feeling we should not do it, so we turned back. On the way back we saw a sign warning of danger at the Keyhole and beyond. The next day I saw the stats on the amount of people who had fallen to their deaths on that section and was completely glad we didn’t do it. Always trust your gut.
— /u/elfleur

I did Giant Mountain and turned to head toward Rocky Peak Ridge to get in two peaks and after taking about 10 steps I stopped my dog and turned around. I had an awful feeling in my stomach not sure why but just decided not to do it. But a time I should have listened to my gut was when I did the Santanoni loop. I wasn’t feeling it and neither was my dog but we did it anyway, and then I feel pretty hard down the Santanoni Express and was banged up and in pain for weeks after.
— /u/diligentlyruthless

I set out to hike the Dix Range a couple of weeks ago from the trail along the Boquet River off of Route 73. There was half a foot of snow and I had to break trail which slowed my pace down so much. Somehow lost my headlamp somewhere. Eventually lost the trail entirely. So after hiking six miles for three hours, I turned back so I wouldn’t end up on the weekly SAR ranger report.
— /u/cos_css

some nutjob had been killing and abducting college girls in the region

Full-On Creepy Feels…

Some locations really set off your alarm bells with their mood. In this situation, never go against your gut.

Hiking Cat and Thomas. Small mountains and an easy hike. Got an uneasy feeling heading into a gully, but it eased as we headed up the mountain and summited. Before passing the gully again, I saw a small pine tree in a small pool of mirror-smooth water to my left. Thought it was interesting looking. Soon after, I passed the same gully and had the same feeling: unease, something watching me, etc, and hiked out. I noticed to my right a small pine in a pool of water and thought, huh, that’s strange. A few yards later I realized I had gotten turned around. No idea how it happened, but my GPS recorded it. I got twisted in the gully somehow. I will not be hiking Cat and Thomas again…
— /u/ADKFunPolice

We came upon Sharp Bridge Campground. Pulled in, noticed two pickups in the small lot to the left, but other than that it was deserted. As we started on the trail, it looked really nice but, after about five minutes or so, this incredibly strong sense of foreboding over came me. I told my wife that we needed to turn around and get back to the car. I had my hand on the small of her back to make sure she kept moving. I felt like if we stopped, or if we ran, it would be bad. No idea what it was, but it scared the hell out of me.

— /u/BuffNiagra4runner
In grad school I was in Virginia and went to hike Mcafee’s Knob. About three miles up, I just got incredibly spooked and so did my then-girlfriend. No particular reason — though some nutjob had been killing and abducting college girls in the region around that time. Anyway, we went back down. I remember feeling conflicted. But with each passing step the knot in my stomach just got less and less, until we arrived at car and headed home. Weird experience.
— Anonymous

Then it hit both of us: diarrhea

You’ve Got to be Shitting Me

These stories are like if Aesop was alive today but only wrote about poop…

A friend and I stayed in Tupper lake the night prior to attempting Santanoni and Panther. We got pizza and had a few beers, which was pretty typical for us. The next morning we started hiking around 6:30. The first couple miles were rough going, trying to work off a mild hangover. Then it hit both of us: diarrhea. After our third time stopping in only a few miles, we decided it wasn’t safe to continue on and turned around. It was my first time turning around, but we made the right call. You definitely don’t want to be severely dehydrated and pooping uncontrollably on top of a 4000 ft mountain, hours from safety.
— /u/WhyIWonder

Several years ago I woke up at early on a Saturday in order to go check out the new Jay Mountain Ridge trail, understanding that it offered superior views of the High Peaks. A great plan. The not-so-great part of the plan was eating at Famous Lunch in Troy on Friday and drinking a bunch of coffee on the way up. I got to the trailhead, hiked for maybe 10 minutes, then spent the next 30-60 minutes spraying my insides into a cat hole while screaming at the sky. Feeling weak and defeated, I packed up and headed home. I drove 6 hours round trip to have explosive diarrhea in the woods.
— /u/hijusthappytobehere

…after the third time busting my ass…

Too Little Gear

Early on, I had a near miss with the Grim Reaper due to not having the right gear on a winter hike. I learned a lesson that day.

I’m in my car right now after bailing on a two night trip. I drove all the way up and had everything packed, but once I got to the site, something told me it wasn’t a good idea. My gear should technically be fine with the cold, but I got to the lot when it was dark and lost confidence in the temp rating: 30° comfort and I have a bag liner.
— /u/98farenheit

Hiking in the Catskills, trying to do Blackhead, Black Dome and Thomas Cole in the late winter before everything melted. I did not bring microspikes or crampons and after the third time busting my ass and sliding back down part of the trail I decided to call it a day and come back with the proper equipment.
— Anonymous

Gothics. Early November hike, weather was unseasonably warm, and it was drizzling at the trailhead. I was dressed for cold and rain, but was not equipped for snow and ice. As I gained elevation, snow and ice increased. I got to the ladder and it was covered in wet ice and I noped out. On my way down, I was quickly passed by two young Russian men heading up, wearing shorts and sweatshirts.
— Anonymous

Last December, I was going to do a seven mile hike. I knew there would be snow so I had my spikes but I wore trail runners, thinking the trail would be packed down. It wasn’t. I stepped in quite a bit of deep snow, my socks got wet, and my feet started to get cold. Nothing life threatening, but it didn’t feel right to keep going and maybe risk freezing my toes. So about a mile in I turned around and went back to my car.
— Juan

My cousin and I tried to do the Santanoni Range one Memorial Day weekend. It was wet and relatively warm in the parking lot. We got about 5.5 miles in right where the herd path first crosses the stream and it instantly turned into deep snow. We were continually postholing. It was quite funny at first, but we then came to realize that it was going to be snow the rest of the way. After trying to trek through it for about an hour we decided to turn around since we were not properly prepared for the snow.
— /u/dave_kash

Too Much Gear

Only experience can teach you what you need to bring — and what you don’t need to bring. Unfortunately, the only way to get experience is through experience…

We couldn’t make it up Noonmark because our [overnight] packs weighed, like, 60 pounds each. The black heavy duty bear canister felt like it weighed 10 pounds. My husband looked like he had the Challenger’s rocket boosters (sleeping pads) attached to each side of his pack. We each knew it was impossible after we could barely walk after putting them on but were too embarrassed to tell each other so we soldiered on. We made it up to the lean-to (a miracle) and had a nice night. We still call it “Doom mark”. Ugh.
— /u/EdithsCheckerspot

My twin brother and I were young and super ambitious to backpack a ton of high peaks that we were not in shape for. Especially with backpacks. We just graduated high school and figured ”Hey, let’s do something cool this summer before we start the next chapter in our lives.” We hike a lot, and have hiked almost all the Catskills, so we figured how hard could it be? We had these giant backpacks with way too much gear for what we needed. Started hiking up Wright Peak from the Loj and we could barely get up the rocks on the trail. We had to leave our backpacks at the bottom where the trail branches off for the final push up. We got to the top and both looked at each other said ‘we can’t do this’, I personally shed a couple tears because of the wave of failure I felt. We turned back to the loj. We joke about this experience all the time now and it helped sparked us to get in better shape and to invest in some lighter gear. We backpack all the time and have a blast now.
— Matt

We got 90% to the summit

When The Plan Doesn’t Come Together

Planning is great but you’ll still have to deal with reality…

I drove 4 hours for a loop hike in the Endless Mountains where there were supposed to be no fewer than a dozen waterfalls. The plan was to hike in, camp overnight at the summit, then hike out the next day. All of this was with my four-year-old. While I’d brought water, I was counting on those waterfalls as a secondary source. We got 90% to the summit but kept finding that each source was dry. Before each hike, my contingency planning includes setting hard-and-fast minimum conditions before even leaving the house, which, if not satisfied, trigger a turn-around. For this hike, I had decided we needed needed to find a water source water by 4 p.m., or else we couldn’t get back to the car in daylight. Sad that we didn’t make the summit when we’d already come so far, but I’d like to think that I shared with my son an important lesson about humility before nature, about planning for contingencies, and committing to your own safety minimums.
— /u/LazyPasse

One member was dehydrated with leg cramps

Running Out of Time

One of my own weak spots is that I sometimes start later than planned, and then I have to deal with the reality of tighter windows and safety margins…

[My partner and I] turned around at Elk Pass because it was 1 pm in October and we knew we would be too late coming out of the woods. The other three members of our group had already outpaced us and pushed on for Nippletop/Dial. They made both, but did not come out of the woods until 10:30 PM. One member was dehydrated with leg cramps. They had one headlight between them, but were unable to find it in whichever pack it was in. They navigated out using the light from a cell phone screen (didn’t have a flashlight function). My friend and I had already contacted the DEC rangers. They told us to call back if the others did not return by 11 pm.
— /u/IslandPonder

We decided to hike Giant mountain, a little advanced for us but it was for our anniversary and we thought what’s the worst they could happen. Made it two thirds of the way, was taking us a mile an hour, and we were getting very tired and hungry despite having snacks. Found a nice spot sat and enjoyed the view, discussed whether or not to turn around or make it to the top. It was 3pm. Sun would go down at 4:45. For safety and our exhaustion decided to turn back. How we got back down is beyond us, didn’t realize just how far up we had gone. Got to the car just as the sun was going down. Had we pushed through we would have had to hike most of the way down in the dark and despite having headlamps it would have been awful and unsafe.
— /u/bigwaterbottles

Turned back right below the summit of Van Wyck. It was getting sketchy and I felt I should reconfigure the route. I’m always alone so I was cautious. I was also concerned about time.
— Julie

when responsible for the safety of others, I’m a much more conservative climber

Group Dynamics

Solo hiking versus hiking-with-a-friend versus group hikes — each of these configurations radically alters the dynamic of how quickly problems get solved. And even if they get solved. Groupfeel causes so many of us to tamp down our personal concerns. Nobody wants to be The First Person to Say a Thing. But so often, in fact, the first person to say a thing is the person who opens the floodgates for others to say the same thing. Always be that person.

I have a few times with a group when attacking the next summit would have us descending in the dark. On my own, I’m much more likely to push. But when responsible for the safety of others, I’m a much more conservative climber.
— /u/RangerHikes
These next two groups did so well in assessing their individual situations and themselves, and in keeping each other safe. And a high-five, too, to the mystery helpful hiker who models how to pass on crucial safety information without being a dick about it.

It was 2016 and my second winter hike in the High Peaks. I brought two friends along and I was the only one with snow shoes. I had them because someone suggested I bring them and didn’t even know it was a regulation in that portion of the park yet. My friends had crampons but not shoes and we were about to take on Sawteeth for the first time ever in late January…Thankfully it was a beautiful day, so the hike to the base of the mountain was easy enough. We began to gain elevation when a fellow (far more seasoned) hiker was gaining on us. We stopped to let him go and he greeted us, did a double take at my friend who had just sunken in to his thighs just off the packed trail and almost continued on without a fuss, but decided to stop and talk to us. He helped get my friend out of the snow, and helped us understand the regulations, and the seriousness of what we were trying to accomplish with so little appropriate gear. 2 of 3 had full down jackets, and 2 of 3 had no snow shoes. The guy who stopped was the most understanding, kind and relatable hiker I’ve met to date. He didn’t pressure us to turn around but rather gave us what he knew, his experiences and a past story with his friends and continued on. We made the decision that it wouldn’t be in our best interest to continue upward and we turned back for for the car. We didn’t want to meet him again and be going in the “wrong” direction. We all came out unharmed and more knowledgeable.
— /u/yakaroo22

Excited, capable adventurers started descending Devil’s Kitchen in the summer. The going was slow. Wet leaves on wet rock. Each step felt like it could be a slip if you weren’t careful and a fall down the steep formation would be serious. We all, if memory serves, somewhat simultaneously decided we were going to bail and do a different hike. It wasn’t a small group, but there were no protests. I think this was one of my hiking group’s finest moments: knowing to bail.
— @roadworrier

We decided to turn around — best decision I ever made

Winter Issues

The risks associated with winter hiking are far higher than the warm seasons. There are more reasons to turn back and more reason to pay attention to those reasons…

I was attempting Skylight/Gray and turned around when I started floundering in deep spruce traps near Lake Tear after breaking trail from Lake Arnold. It was still early and a gorgeous day, but I just wasn’t feeling it and trusted my gut. A year later I was hoping to finish my winter 46 on the Dix range but visibility was terrible and after breaking trail to Macomb-S.Dix-Grace, I figured it would be safer to retreat and save Hough/Dix for another day. It meant an extra trip two days later, but it worked out well. I got to finish on a packed down superhighway on a beautiful sunny day.
— /u/omicron_persei_ocho

High winds, hard February ice on exposed summits of Marcy and Algonquin. Really needed crampons but only had spikes / snowshoes.
— Anonymous (making a very good call)

My dad and uncle were hiking Wright Peak a few years back and made it to about 200 yards from the peak before turning around because the snow was so bad and the wind chill was something like -20⁰ F.
— /u/cman9817

Hiking up to Haystack last January. Little Haystack was covered in ice but there wasn’t any snow yet. I had both microspikes and crampons but I noped out when I saw the ice ledge on the back side of Little Haystack. My summit was less than ½ mile away but I turned around and trudged back to The Garden. Came back a month later when there was enough snow to greatly lessen that ledge.
— Eric

Winter Issues: June Edition

Above 4000’, you have to be prepared to deal with winter conditions in summer, or bail.

4th of July weekend my brother and I went on a three day backpacking trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. On the second day there was a snow field (really it was just solid ice) covering the trail.  It was very steep at this point, and the bottom of the snow field went off a cliff. We could not go up and around. We only needed to go about 100 yards to get across it. We decided to turn around. Best decision I ever made.
— Stephen

Just Not Feeling It

This might be the greatest reason of all…

First winter attempt at Mount Marshall. Made it about two miles in and was like, “Meh, I don’t feel like hiking another 13 miles today.” Snowshoed my ass back to the car and took a nap when I got home.
— Anonymous

I was headed up the Blacks a few years back on an overnight and got pretty sick just before Thomas Cole and said, “Nope, not today,” and hiked the three miles back to the trailhead.
— Jorge

I turned around on the top of Mt. Donaldson on snowshoes rather than continuing to Seward and Emmonds because I didn’t feel well. Turned out the cold I’d been hoping would go away turned into pneumonia. Took me until several hours after dark to make it back out to the car at the gate by the Ampersand Club despite a near-dawn start, and I didn’t get out of bed for a couple of days after.
— /u/agf

something large growled at us and everything else nearby went dead silent

Animal Assists

There’s a level of experience above novice where you kinda think, “Hey, I got this!” and then an animal encounter brings you right back down to earth…

Was hiking up Panther Mountain in the Catskills. Me and my friend both agreed we should head back just before we reached the summit as the sun was close to setting. No more than five minutes into our walk back something large growled at us and everything else nearby went dead silent; needless to say, we got out of there in a hurry.
— /u/sniper123123

Ran from mountain goats in Olympic National Park!
— Daniel

I learned to trust my instincts. Especially in the woods. I learned a lot hanging with a wolf dog. When he said let’s get out of here, he couldn’t be altered. Last walk I took in the scary woods, my hackles stood up. It was like I was being watched, or stalked.
— Willi
I was hiking Pitchoff and was maybe 1.5 miles in and I heard what sounded like a bleating baby animal. It sounded like it was in distress. SUPER UNLIKELY but I couldn’t fight the mental image of a mama moose trampling me and decided Pitchoff was meant for another day.
— Ciara

My family did a canoe trip from lower Saranac to middle Saranac and planned to camp — but the park ranger told us that a momma bear had two cubs that died and she was on a rampage. So we opted not to camp.
— /u/dsb2305

Drove for 4-5 hours, walked about half-a-mile, heard sounds of what I thought were squirrels, turned the corner to see 20+ coyotes. Noped my ass home. Another time, saw bear scratches on trees, bear prints in the snow, and then a hot steaming pile of black bear shit. About faced and left.

Made the mistake of starting a multi-night hike in the Adirondacks in June. Made it one night before the black flies turned us around.
— /u/doublebar13

a guy playing his acoustic guitar shirtless by the waterfall

Hell is Other People

Sometimes it’s the human animal who harshes your mountain mellow…

Not really a turn around, but a change of plans. Was going to do Algonquin and Iroquois but the crowds were a big turnoff. The last straw was a guy playing his acoustic guitar shirtless by the waterfall. Did Wright instead and called it a day.
— /u/ADKFunPolice

Was hiking alone in Washington, came across this couple who had just turned around because one of them wouldn’t shut up about being freaked out about mountain lions. I was so annoyed, considering I was hiking alone. I tried to push on but ultimately couldn’t get the frantic couple out of my head, so I had to turn around myself.
— /u/Bemmas

Turned around at Pharaoh trailhead after walking the two miles in because of bad vibes I got from a couple guys hanging out there. Never happened before or since. Might have been fine but just followed my instinct.
— Rita

In Harriman state park, I was finishing a short hike with my wife and, about a mile from the parking lot, we came upon a strange scene. We found an old worn out boot beside the trail, and thought it to be strange, but continued hiking nevertheless. Within 20 yards, we came upon another boot, just as old and worn out. That definitely was stranger. We couldn’t fathom why someone would remove both their boots. We looked ahead and saw what seemed like a pile of clothes about 50 yards ahead of us. We considered approaching it, but noticed they were just as tattered as the boots. Something felt very wrong. We turned around and hiked another trail back to the parking lot, adding nearly two additional miles. We left a message about the incident with the local ranger, but never heard anything back. We still talk about that hike today.
— /u/satyadhamma

I trust my gut instinct

Honoring Your Limits

These stories all speak to people who listened to themselves — and, sadly, one who didn’t

My wife and I were hiking Giant on a rainy October day. There was no other people on the trail, it was perfect. She was about four months pregnant. She was pretty slow the whole morning and I told her if she wasn’t feeling it we could turn around, but she insisted she was okay. We got past Giant Washbowl and a little further up the trail it got a little slippery on some rock face. I was in front of her. I looked back and she just started crying and said, “I can’t get up.” We turned around and went home at that point.
— Anonymous

We did Diablo Lake in N. Cascades and we didn’t eat enough (took way longer to get there than we thought it would) and I was super dizzy. At a few of the exposed rock faces I looked down and just realized, “Yeah, I don’t think today is a good time to slip off this cliff.”
— /u/SJserenity

I strained a calf muscle hiking Mount Beacon and could have kept going but didn’t want to injure myself further. So I turned around. Ended up totally tearing it less than a week later doing something unrelated, but at least I was home, instead of six miles from the trailhead and unable to walk.
— Becky

I know exactly when it’s time to turn around. I trust my gut instinct. My legs will just not move further. Last year, I could not bring myself to stand on the big sloped boulders at Table Rock. Not long after, I read a news story about a woman who slipped on those boulders and fell into the crevasse and unfortunately did not survive.
— Eileen

When I was a teenager, my dad and I decided to hike up Ampersand. He’d hiked it about 10 years earlier and it was my first time. We got to the part of the trail where the ascent begins, and a little ways up there were trees down all over the trail. After a bit he brought up the idea of turning back, but I was game to continue. After a bit more arduous progress he called it and we turned around. About 50 yards from the road, he suddenly got a terrible back spasm. I had to physically assist him off the trail back to the car. We really dodged a bullet that day…
— /u/mcgeggy

I was hiking the Devil’s Path. Overestimated myself and underestimated the trail, so it was taking a lot longer than I thought it would. My dog and I had half a liter of water left, the trail was bone dry, and we were at Orchard Point on Plateau. We were gonna continue to the second half of DP but with how I felt, physically, I couldn’t do it. I had one bar of service up there and got my friend came to pick us up. I didn’t realize how long it would take coming down either. That night and the entire next day, my dog wouldn’t walk due to exhaustion. We dodged a bullet.
— Erick

On my very first hike in the Catskills, I made every noob mistake in the book. But then I went through a deep research and learning process. So this next one is very relatable to me.

I was a travel nurse working in the ADKs. I wanted to climb as many high peaks as possible in the month I had. Went up Giant by myself, got about 2 miles or so in and took a wrong turn. About 20 mins later I knew I had gone off the marked trail but thought I could just bushwhack my way to the top if I just go straight up. After an hour or so I was in the middle of slowly crawling across 30 or so yards of exposed rock with a straight drop to the bottom. Took a hard look at my lack of survival skills, and how dangerous and stupid I was being. Crawled back to where I was and realized I had no idea where the marked trail was. No map, no compass, I was a bit nervous but heard a stream and followed it to the bottom back to my car. Spent the rest of the day researching how to be smarter. Got maps, texted someone telling them where I’d be hiking and when I’d be back. Woke up the next morning and tackled Giant without issue. I credit my Giant mountain “turn back” for giving me reason to smarten up and realize the dangers that exist in our own backyards!
— /u/Magicmattsocks

I lost my cousin to an untimely death because he didn’t turn back … you can’t be too comfortable – always be aware.
— Antonia

I regret ever having hiked with “goals”

The Wisdom Of Having No Goals

As someone who’s given up pursuing peak lists, these two examples really speak to me…

I actually turn around on hikes all the time. I tend to night/evening hike and my “turn around time” is at whatever moment I’ve had enough for that outing. I’m a multi-round 46-r and frankly I regret ever having hiked with “goals”.
— /u/BearingMagneticNorth

My first attempt at Marcy in the winter a couple years ago. Bad weather heading up, turned into a full blizzard above tree line and I decided it’d be foolish to go on when I feared losing my bearings at best and being blown off at worst. So I turned around soon after clearing the trees, telling myself the mountain wasn’t going anywhere. It was my first time ever turning back willingly, and the weight and anxiety I could feel lifting off my shoulders as I made my way down filled me with warmth and a newfound confidence in my abilities in the outdoors. That day entirely changed my approach not only to hiking but to life as a whole. I realized I shouldn’t put so much emphasis on reaching a set goal at any cost, and instead find enjoyment and satisfaction in the journey, with said goal the cherry on top. I came back the next morning, and summited under the bluest of bluebird skies.
— /u/littleTiFlo

The Pizzas Are Calling and I Must Go

Who among us is strong enough to resist the call of the hot pizza siren?

My all time dumbest turn around was nine miles into an overnight trip when I summited a peak and decided I’d rather hike nine miles back out to my car and get pizza than hike three more to camp and eat the dinner I carried.
— /u/freshPrintsof_belair

Basically, I didn’t like the way the trees were swaying…

My Five Reasons

I’ve ended hikes early many times and never once regretted it…

On my first ever mountain hike, I turned around. My daughter and I were climbing Indian Head in the Catskills. We turned around just below the Jimmy Dolan col. She was tired and I didn’t even feel a little bad. My goal for the day was to have a great day in nature with my awesome kiddo. And the mountain had given me that. I’m not the kind of person to push people with, “Come on! You can do it!” — so home we went with our memories.

Later, on my first attempt of the Dix Range in the Adirondacks, I plain ran out of steam. I made it up Macomb, South Dix and Grace Peak, and then over to the col before Hough — where I looked at Hough, then Dix, so tantalizingly close, and knew my legs couldn’t handle the rest of that day; not with that long walk out. So I bailed down Lilian Brook early. The last two miles back to my car, I ended up shuffling like a zombie from The Walking Dead. Literally made it out on fumes. That was a good call.

On my second attempt of the Dix Range, I didn’t even make it past the parking area. I’d planned to overnight near the bottom of the Lilian Brook trail but got to the outer parking area after dark. My car was the only car in the lot. I realized I’d forgotten a few things (non-essential things like my buff) and it just kind of threw me. I got the sense that my head just wasn’t in the game, right when it might need it to be. Camp was about a 4.5 mile hike in. The wind was making the trees sway in a creepy way. I just said, “You know what? Not today.” Total gut thing. Right on the edge. I felt like I was approaching Moderate Yikes Territory — and then if anything bad happened, I knew I’d have ignored several red flags. So, once again, I went home early.

In the summer of 2020, I cut short a big day with my hiking bestie on a redemption climb on the Santanoni Range. She had a goal of summiting Couchsachraga. But when we got to Times Square I had to tell her I couldn’t go any further. The long steep incline had turned my legs to jelly. I was toast. She took it like a champ and did the last section by herself, while I rested up at Times Square. (I did at least eke out the short hike to Panther, but only barely.) When she returned, we hiked back down together, safely.

More recently, I turned around early in The Catskills, on the big loop of Hunter and Southwest Hunter. I was fully prepared, with all my gear and supplies. I felt fine. But on that hike — I just started to feel like, on that day, I was hiking Hunter for the wrong reason. I was only there because I “needed” Hunter for my winter grid. And there were so many other mountains to explore. So I got to the fire tower, had a great time, and turned back. I skipped the second half of the hike. I doubt I’ll ever hike Southwest Hunter again. Zero regrets. A dumb hike? Maybe? But it also finally convinced me to only hike the hikes I feel truly excited to hike. In the end, then, a very valuable hike.

It Takes Guts

The words “gut” and “instinct” appear multiple times in this post.

Every hiker who wrote those words actually listened to their gut. That’s wisdom.

Hike happily.

Trust your gut.

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One response to “Why Turning Around is the Boldest Move

  1. I’ve received even more replies since publishing this post. I’ll add them above in time.

    The most impressive turn-arounds, IMO, are the ones that happen just below a summit.

    Always the right call of conditions or the vibe calls for it, obviously, but still impressive.

    That’s an obvious moment when ego and attachment could lead us toward a risk that turns into bad day. It’s a pretty good measure of one’s maturity to turn back right when there’s the most pressure to push forward. It’s a smarter kind of going forward.

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