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So much for honest backpackers...

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So much for honest backpackers...

Postby jgaffney » Mon Aug 01, 2016 2:47 pm

I always thought backpackers were a pretty honest bunch. If I wanted to drop my pack and go off exploring, or leave my campsite open and do a dayhike, I never worried about someone coming along and stealing my stuff. Not anymore.

Last weekend, I went backpacking above Hetch Hetchy. It was pretty hot, so I came back early. When I got to the backpacker's parking, I hung my camera on the plastic traffic barricade that was in front of my car, and leaned my backpack against it. I walked over to the bear boxes and retrieved my duffel bag with the car keys in it. I unlocked the car, threw my backpack in, then went over to the restroom to change into some shorts and sandals for the (5-hour) drive home.

When I got home and unpacked the car, I realized that I left my camera on the traffic barricade. I called the Hetch Hetchy entry station and told them what happened. Rachel took down my name, phone number and a description of the camera. She said she would pass the info to the ranger that drove around in the evening and locked things up. She also gave me the email address for lost and found in the park (yose_lostandfound@nps.gov). I checked back in with Hetch Hetchy 3 days later, and again after a week had gone by. The camera was never found, nor turned in.

Someone has my $400 Canon camera. I don't care so much about the camera - I've replaced it already - but the memory chip was valuable to me. I had a lot of pictures on there from my work that I had not downloaded yet. I hope someone else is enjoying them.

Things are different when I'm out in the wilderness with no one else around. But, when I'm around other folks, I'll be a little more circumspect.



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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 01, 2016 3:07 pm

Sorry to read this, but it could have been a day hiker or someone specifically targeting that area.
After Shhsgirl's experience:
Husband and I camped just below TI on River Trail, a little beyond intersection with PCT. During evening, after I had set up camp and before husband got there, I was down at the water. Someone came into camp and took everything in my pack: all stuff sacks, Mountain Laurel Design Cuben fiber bivy, Cuben fiber pack cover, Z Packs rain suit, and my new Wiley X sunglasses. Hope he liked those-- they were prescription. I need everything I carry, so we decided to turn around and go home. This was disheartening, to say the least. Well, I guess I can buy new stuff, but I can never get this time back. Sticky Fingers, at least, can't buy a new character, but maybe that doesn't matter anymore. Our daughter says maybe he'll get struck by lightning.


This is one of the reasons I camp away from the main campsites, especially ones that are in open areas that someone who is day hiking in with an empty backpack, specifically for the purpose of stealing, can easily scope out and then load up all the persons more expensive gear when they are out on their own day hike.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby rayfound » Mon Aug 01, 2016 3:08 pm

Counterpoint: I discovered upon returning to the trailhead at mosquito flats that I had not lost my camera somewhere in my backpack as I assumed, I had left it on the rear bumper of the 4runner.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby franklin411 » Mon Aug 01, 2016 3:34 pm

I don't know the parking lot in question, but it's well-known that thieves prowl hikers' parking lots because there's an excellent chance that the owners won't be back for hours or days. I'm sorry the OP lost his data, which as he points out, is more important than the camera itself. However, this story screams "be careful in parking lots" rather than "be careful of hikers."
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby sheperd80 » Mon Aug 01, 2016 6:21 pm

franklin411 wrote:I don't know the parking lot in question, but it's well-known that thieves prowl hikers' parking lots because there's an excellent chance that the owners won't be back for hours or days. I'm sorry the OP lost his data, which as he points out, is more important than the camera itself. However, this story screams "be careful in parking lots" rather than "be careful of hikers."

Yep, and be careful in Yosemite. All manner of people flood the park, few of which are backpackers.

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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby longri » Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:09 am

I don't see why backpackers as a group would be any less likely to steal than other similar groups. If you compare them to the general population they are probably more affluent on average but if you adjust for that I doubt you'd find a significant difference. It's a common thing though, to think that "our group" is more honest. I'm a climber and I hear the same thing about climbers.

I've had climbing gear stolen by climbers. I've had camping gear stolen by campers. I've had backpacking gear stolen in a backcountry hut. I haven't had anything stolen in the backcountry but I'm pretty paranoid about leaving stuff unattended in busy areas.

I think the main reasons why backpacking theft is less common than in urban environments are because the density of people in the backcountry is lower, valuables are fewer and there is the need to carry the stolen property out on foot. Of course a nice camera sitting by itself in a busy parking lot is in a different category.

One possibility is that someone picked it up, took it home and was unable to identify the owner. A friend of mine did just that and it was only by luck that when I looked at the camera photos I recognized someone and from there we were able to sleuth out the owner. My friend was happy we found the owner but a little sad not to get a new camera. Even honest people (like my friend) can be opportunistic.

Was your name/address/phone on the camera or in a protected image on the card?
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Aug 02, 2016 9:41 am

In a parking lot, that just says someone took it -- backpackers aren't the only ones around. Especially in Yosemite where there's a frontcountry crime rate.

I've run into random items in the backcountry and if it's still there if we come back through, I pick it up. Things fall off packs or get forgotten a lot. It's hard in the case of a water filter sitting on a rock next to a creek, for example, to know if someone is coming back for it. But something like a tent that's obviously been there for a long time, fly blown half off, dusty stuff sitting around, etc -- I'd call out and look around, take pictures, and go report it. I reported a pile of clothes and a day pack with a fishing license in it that we found sitting around on the ground. Stuff like that is for law enforcement to figure out.

Stealing? never seen it happen in the backcountry. But there aren't roads, in what I consider the wilderness... the farther from a road you go, the less likely stuff will vanish.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby dave54 » Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:33 pm

If a particular trailhead has a recurring theft problem the FS/BLM/NPS LEOs do take action. I recall a case several years ago (in Idaho IIRC) a rash of trailhead break-ins resulted the FS setting up a decoy vehicle with a camera and wallet locked inside but in plain sight. They then set up a stakeout and waited. After a few days they spotted a vehicle slowly cruising the parking area, and a man got out of the car and started looking in the parked cars. He spotted the decoy car, motioned to his friend, and they broke the car window and reached inside. All on video. The LEOs promptly jumped up from their camouflaged stakeout positions and arrested them -- two locals that already had rap sheets for theft and burglary.

OTOH I have left my mountain bike and a canoe stashed in the woods without incident. I carry them a good distance into the trees well out of sight from the trail or road, lock to a tree, and throw a camo tarp over it. Never had a problem even after several days.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby Tom_H » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:04 pm

franklin411 wrote:...this story screams "be careful in parking lots" rather than "be careful of hikers."


Yes, that is my take as well. People who backpack are used to hard work and self-discipline, and this is just my opinion, tend to be honest as part of that self-discipline. Thieves tend to be lazy. I have seen a lot of shady people hanging out at trailheads, but I don't see them doing the hard work to get into the back country.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby balzaccom » Sat Aug 06, 2016 9:51 am

That parking lot is also the only restroom for HH, as I recall, so it us not only used by backpackers...
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby Cross Country » Sat Aug 06, 2016 10:50 am

Every day I went fishing (3 to 4 hundred days) I was a little bit worried that someone would steal somthing. It never happened. My real fear was that when I was 2 days in that someone would steal my BP or my bag. It never happened. imagine how bad that could be. That of course would not be a thief but someone demented.
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Re: So much for honest backpackers...

Postby SSSdave » Sat Aug 06, 2016 9:53 pm

The subject of gear theft in the backcountry has been well discussed in years past on several outdoor boards. It is not a simple subject. GENERALLY one's gear is safe in the backcountry especially with more distance from trailheads beyond day hiking. And there is a huge difference in safety between the wide range of trailheads. Obviously a trailhead down some 4WD dirt road in the Eastern Sierra is going to be vastly more safe than a trailhead along a major paved highway in Angeles National Forest close to the enormous urban world. Hetch Hetchy Backpacker camp is somewhere in between. It does see a wide range of Yosemite visitors because it is also has the restroom for the dam area. Most visitors are not backpackers or even day hikers but rather vehicle oriented people that rarely walk more than 100 yards from their car and tend to drive many park roads just to see what is there.

Most backpacking gear is only going to be of interest to people that backpack or camp and backpackers as a diverse group tend to be at least modestly well to do and not thieves. Our most expensive gear are high end sleeping bags and tents. It would be stupid to leave a really top end multi hundred buck tent or bag set up at some front country camp with no one about to watch over it while one spent a day hiking. But lower down the value list, even the most expensive backpacking stove left out on a front country campsite table is likely to be ignored while one is away for hours. On the other hand expensive camera gear or at least camera gear to the unfamiliar that looks expensive is obviously going to be tempting to some with low moral thresholds. Likewise leaving a wad of dollar bills out in the open on a public campsite table with other gear while one is off day hiking would be sure to tempt many.
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