Let’s Hike: Enjoying the trails safely
With indoor activities limited, the great outdoors is the place to be. While some are eager to take to the woods, others are apprehensive about wildlife and other safety concerns – but even experienced hikers can benefit from tips from Paris Mountain State Park Ranger Cathy Taylor. She has become the Upstate’s guide, leading children and parents on field trips and family hikes at the park.
My favorite hikes are to waterfalls, and Taylor advised to appreciate them from a distance, noting the fatalities that occur every year in the Upstate. Caution is imperative.
The height and water are obvious perils, but Taylor noted that slippery rocks near waterfalls create an additional hazard.
Hiking alone? Don’t get lost
The safest way to hike is with a friend. Taylor said some tragedies have occurred that would have been avoided if the buddy system had been used.
“Having said that, I like to hike on my own sometimes and understand the need for ‘me’ time,” she said.
Most importantly, tell someone else where you’re going.
“When Jones Gap State Park placed a bulletin board at a trailhead, asking people to write down contact info, vehicle description, where they were going and when they expected to return, the need for search and rescue went way down,” Taylor said. “Partly because it was easier to locate people, but also because people realized they needed to let others know these details. This also got people to think about how long a hike would take and whether they could get back before dark.”
Venturing off the trail is how hikers really get lost, Taylor said. She noted that a trail will usually end up near a road or somewhere else to get help.
Health and Safety
A small daypack should hold a liter of water for every 1 or 2 hours of hiking. In warm weather and on strenuous trails, hikers will need more water. Frequent sips are better than chugging. It also helps to drink extra water when you wake up the day of your hike. Bring a healthy snack, such as trail mix.
A first-aid kit with a few bandages and alcohol wipes are a good idea, Taylor said. If anyone develops a blister, a bandage offers a lot of relief. Tissues or toilet paper are also helpful.
Taylor recommended bringing a fully charged cell phone. If the signal is poor, use airplane mode to conserve the battery.
Taylor suggested using Google Earth to track your location using a phone. The AllTrails app allows users to download a trail map, then track your progress along the trail. I always take a photo of the trail map on my phone and make note of any changes and turns. A printed copy is a good back-up.
Before heading out, I check the map at the trailhead to see how my trail is blazed. That way, I can be sure to stay on track. Blazes are marks found along a trail, usually spray-painted spots or plastic shapes on trees in a particular color.
Taylor also recommends the app iNaturalist.
“Take a photo of the flower or whatever you are observing, and it will try to tell you what it is,” she said.
“I suggest bringing a small notebook and pen or pencil,” Taylor said. “While out on a hike, you may find that you are motivated to write down or draw what you see or express your emotions while experiencing the great outdoors. I keep a nature log.”
Taylor noted that on a recent hike with friends, she practiced social distancing due to the pandemic. She and her husband are choosing to hike at Department of Natural Resources sites rather than state parks on the weekends to avoid crowds, although she thinks the parks are fine on the weekdays. She also recommended bringing a mask for passing other groups of hikers.
This is the first installment of a two-part series about hiking safety. Next month, look for tips on how to deal with wildlife while hiking.