Hiking the Pfiffner Traverse: Lessons in High-Risk Decision Making

It can’t be denied that people are defined by their passions. Along this line of thought, many outdoor enthusiasts build their lives and shape their self-image around such passions. Yet, as our skill-levels and interests in the outdoors evolve, these changes often coincide with radical reassessments of self-identity. In September 2020, I embarked on a backpacking trip on Colorado’s Pfiffner Traverse that came to redefine my approach to wilderness travel. Even more, the cathartic insights I received through the process of high-risk decision-making on the hike forced a radical reevaluation of my own self-image.

Whether you are dealing with avalanche terrain in backcountry skiing, or planning an off-trail hike through the Rocky Mountains, high-risk decision-making is an intimate process. Therefore, you must approach these scenarios with a calm mind and introspective demeanor. In following this path, you weigh the risks of the planned outing versus your own internal motivators. In the end, this balancing of risk and reward should result in a well-planned trip where you have mitigated the appropriate amount of risk commensurate to your abilities.

My experience on the Piffner Traverse was deeper and more expansive than risk assessment. It actually illuminated my own ego-driven decision-making process. In uncovering these elements in my own psyche, I quickly realized that ego-motivated actions often result in poor decision making – on the trail as well as in life.

Each hiking season, the outdoors community suffers tragic losses due to accidents on the trail. Whether it be a thru-hiker falling to their death on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), or a climber perishing on a 14,000 ft peak in Colorado, these scenarios are all-too-familiar. While tragedies are an unfortunate part of the outdoor experience, many of them could be avoided with the application of better decision-making. This risk mitigation process can be further enhanced by an internal awareness of the ego with realizing objectives in outdoor pursuits.

Pfiffner Traverse

In my own personal experiences, the mantra of “gotta make my miles” pays serious dividends in meeting hiking goals. However, this payout isn’t always matched with proper safety protocol and rational risk-assessment. While I have been able to push through some less-than-ideal conditions when hiking on a trail with the aid of a GPS, this ability quickly disintegrates in more engaging environments. The same can be said about pushing through physical and psychological barriers that need to be heeded on more challenging outings.

My Pfiffner Traverse experience helped me re-envision wilderness travel by introducing a fluid mindset that leads to safer and more fulfilling outdoor experiences.

The Pffiffner Traverse Series on the KCG Content Blog will span 9 weeks and cover my experiences on the hike and how they reshaped my approach to wilderness travel.

Pfiffner Traverse Series on the KCG Content Blog:

  • Part 1: Introduction to the Pfiffner Traverse Series
  • Part 2: Planning a Pfiffner Traverse Hike
  • Part 3: Conditions of the Pfiffner Traverse in September 2020
  • Part 4: Risk Assessment in Hiking
  • Part 5: The Ambivalence of Mother Nature
  • Part 6: Value of a Flexible Hiking Plan
  • Part 7: Hiking and the Ego
  • Part 8: Hiking and Backcountry Safety
  • Part 9: Pfiffner Traverse Trip Conclusion

Next Week in the Series

In next week’s Pfiffner Traverse Series blog post, I will dive into the specifics of Planning a Pfiffner Traverse Hike. The planning process is a critical element of backcountry safety as well as the overall enjoyment of a hike.

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Kent Gruetzmacher

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