It’s a Great Idea to Turn Around When…

stop sign at night

Stop sign at Denning

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Have you ever turned around on a hike for any reason?

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.

Learn how to enjoy hiking safely.

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

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

Just A Hunch…

Sometimes, you just have a feeling that something isn’t right. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s only on the edge of being 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…

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One response to “It’s a Great Idea to Turn Around When…

  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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I write independent hiking content to help hikers like you find amazing hikes in the Catskills, Adirondacks, Gunks, Hudson Highlands, Taconics and beyond.

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