Why do otherwise smart people do such dumb things in the great outdoors?

Two hikers died last week after falling from Yosemite’s Taft Point, located high above Yosemite Valley. What exactly happened is still unclear, but they almost certainly stepped off the trail, past the guardrail and passed warning signs before tumbling hundreds of feet over the cliffs.

There’s been an exponential increase in the number of lost hikers, injured hikers and, worst of all, hikers who die on the trail. In recent weeks, we’ve learned of a California woman who slipped and fell to her death while taking selfies on a trail high above Lake Superior in Michigan, and thrill-seekers suffering severe injuries while leaping off cliffs into shallow pools — just to put the video on their Instagram feed.

There was a particularly horrible incident in the summer of 2011 when three college students stepped past the guardrail at the top of Yosemite’s 317-foot high Vernal Fall and into the Merced River. Other visitors pleaded with them to get out of the water, but one hiker slipped and started a chain reaction that ended with all three falling to their deaths.

Why do otherwise smart people do such dumb things in the great outdoors?

Bad hiking advice pollutes comments on hiking blogs, Facebook posts and Yelp reviews, so it’s tempting to blame social media. The fault, however, lies not in Instagram stars, but in ourselves. It’s a disconnect from nature, a lack of even basic survival skills, and poor judgment that cause most troubles on the trail.

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