SBM offers up this bit of tongue-in-cheek advice about staying safe and smart on the trail, from a rock climber’s point of view.

The definition of Tenacity: to hold fast, stubborn or persistent.

Most of the time it is a helpful trait to posses, but when you are enjoying the freedom of the hills it can often cause what is commonly referred to as an E.P.I.C. (Extraordinary Predicament or Intense Conundrum). You run out of water, hike back in the dark, get caught out in a lightning storm, etc. In an effort to reduce the severity and frequency of this condition I have compiled this guide: Common Symptoms of an E.P.I.C. There are many symptoms of an impending E.P.I.C. but only constant vigilance and an honest assessment of your abilities and/or your situation will ensure that you have a pleasurable (and possibly not very memorable) outing.

SYMPTOM ONE – Sudden unplanned inspiration.

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You tack on an extra, unplanned objective midway through your current objective.

Scenario: There is fresh snow on the ground and under the clear blue sky it is sparkling in the sunlight. The views from your second, and last, summit of the day are phenomenal. It is still early enough and you can see the next major peak a few miles or so to the west along an easy ridgeline.

Epic: You decide to bag another peak… and run out of water halfway back (see symptom five). You forgot your sunscreen (see symptom six) so you get a horrible 2nd degree sunburn on your face, neck, and head that peels for days (consequently your significant other kicks you out of bed to sleep on the couch so as not to ruin the sheets they just cleaned).

SYMPTOM TWO – Extra weight will slow me down.

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If you find yourself saying at the trailhead, “This (extra rope, extra water, tent, snow picket, etc…)_________ is a crutch,” you are probably going to experience an E.P.I.C.

Scenario: You purposely leave a few heavier or bulky items in the car so you can travel faster/easier because you know you are about to embark on a difficult venture.

Epic: After three hours with no water you are kicking yourself for not packing that #4 Camalot (rock climbing gear) as you run well into the “I am going to die if I fall!” zone.

SYMPTOM THREE – The weather is not that bad.

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What Bill Bowerman said is your mantra: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just weak people.” No matter what is falling from the sky (or isn’t) you go out.

Scenario: The thunder is loud but you cannot see the lightning so the storm is pretty far away, right? Plus it should not take too long to climb this two-pitch route – it’s only 5.10a.

Epic: Your rope gets stuck on the way down. One hundred feet above the ground the storm parks directly overhead. Your buddy forgot his jacket (whether this is symptom two or five is not clear but it is obviously symptom six) so one of you has to shiver in the pouring rain while lightning strikes trees too close for comfort.

SYMPTOM FOUR – Your objective is completed once every couple of years.

©Isaac Tait

There is a reason for this and it is normally a good one.

Scenario: There is little to no information on your objective so you embark with only your intuition to guide you.

Epic:  The short hike turns out to be more of a six-mile scrambling, canyoneering, choss and rattlesnake-filled death march (halfway through you realize that THIS is why you could not find any information/beta on the hike – because no one is dumb enough to do it and then publish their stupidity). Then you run out of water (symptom two or three) and end up drinking from pooled rain water and eating cactus fruits to survive (watch out for the little cactus needles – they are not fun to have stuck in your lip…. I have heard…).

SYMPTOM FIVE – You do not plan ahead.

©Isaac Tait

You like to fly by the seat of your pants to blaze into the unknown with little to no information. Scenario: You wake up and suffer from symptom one, so you quickly throw together your gear and head out.

Epic: You seem to remember an old map from somewhere that showed a trail around here somewhere. Two miles later you find the trail and now it is only twenty minutes or so to the river. One hour later you think you can hear it. The entire hike back is at night and on the way back you discover that your significant other has called in a rescue (you are three hours overdue) and you are met one mile from the trailhead by the Equestrian Search and Rescue team.

SYMPTOM SIX – You forget an important item and rather than turn back you press on.

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This by itself oftentimes does not result in an EPIC but it can be the tipping point that pushes you into an EPIC if you are suffering from any other symptoms.

Scenario: It is the first snow of the season and in your excitement the night before you overlooked your crampons. You figure that you will be all right because the two peaks you have in mind are pretty tame. Your 65cm ice axe should be fine…

Epic: At the top of the second, and last peak, you suffer from symptom one and decide to go for one last peak. On the way back the sun has begun to set and the snow becomes very hard. You have to kick steps into ice to get down the last couloir with a nice bed of boulders at the bottom to catch you if you fall (at the time you are unaware but a later inspection of the map, which you left at home because you suffered from symptom five, reveals that you were suffering from symptom four – the couloir is named Death Gulch).


This is in no way a comprehensive list of symptoms but rather the most common symptoms of an impending E.P.I.C. Constant referral to this symptom report, before and during your venture, will help you identify your risk for experiencing an E.P.I.C. There is no known cure for an E.P.I.C. but hopefully awareness that you are at risk can help you mitigate the side effects that may include: euphoria, solitude, peace, death, an uncontrollable bladder, embarrassment, sponsorship and/or a feeling of invincibility.

©Isaac Tait

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