hiking essentials – part 2, the trails

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds

Edward abbey

With the abundance of trails in our area, it is a rather daunting task to scan through and digest the information. However, a well-researched hike will ensure an enjoyable and safer hike. I will share the steps I take with each hike and some of the hiking etiquette I learned along the way.

Step 1 – the very first step is to evaluate your hiking group’s ability to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the difficulty level and enjoy the adventure. When you research the trail, there should be information about the length, elevation gain, and difficulty level. Group size is a consideration in some places, especially in the more fragile or protected terrain. For example, the maximum group size is eight people in the Enchantments, and the minimum group size is four if you are hiking in Banff National Park during bear season.

Step 2 – researching the trail. There are plenty of websites and mobile apps nowadays to help us with this planning stage. I like to use the Washington Trails Association (WTA) and AllTrails to search for trails in a specific area. WTA is only available in Washington state, but with AllTrails, you can find trails locally and even internationally. With the AllTrails Pro subscription, I can then download the map of the trail I selected on my phone app and use it offline for navigation. Some of the features I like about these apps are the recent trip reports on trail conditions, the entry fees/passes or parking permits required, and the ability to save hikes to a list for future use. Since some roads are closed at certain times of the year, this is the time to check the road condition leading to the trail. Other than your local transportation agency website, the US Forest Service, Google Map, and Google Earth are all useful for road research.

Step 3 – recreation passes and permits requirement. The WTA website has an excellent article that cover this topic. We typically have Discover Pass and either the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass or Northwest Forest Pass. Please check your respective state agency for specific passes and permits requirement.

Step 4 – check the weather and road conditions. Once you have decided on the trail you are interested in hiking, check the destination weather forecast and road conditions. The mountain weather is very different than the lowlands. During the winter, you will need to check for avalanche danger too. Northwest Avalanche Center is the website I use for Washington state. You can search for avalanche forecasts nationally at Avalanche.org.

Step 5 – the trails. So, what do you do when you get to the trailheads? With the closing of indoor entertainment, gyms, and malls since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are heading to the outdoors. To preserve the beauty of nature for all to enjoy, we have the responsibility to play our parts. If you have not heard of the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, this is the time to be familiar with it and read in detail on the website.  According to The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, their focus is ‘on educating people, and the organization accomplishes its mission by providing innovative education, skills and research to help people care for the outdoors’. Here are the seven LNT principles everyone recreating outside should know.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare – refer to the above steps. Take time to research your destination to reduce the impact on the environment and the use of rescue resources. 
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces – unless you are in the backcountry, always follow the established trails and watch where you step. Avoid stepping on vegetation whenever possible. Durable surfaces are rock, sand, gravel, and ice- and snow-covered areas. Camp on durable surfaces or more resilient vegetation such as grasses, and at least 200 feet away from the water source.
  3. Dispose of waste properly – ‘Pack it in, Pack it out’. I always have extra plastic bags in my backpack for waste disposal. These include food waste, human waste, and everything else in between. Learning to ‘go’ in the woods properly is not easy, but it is a responsible way to prevent any water and food source contamination. Urine usually causes less damage to vegetation, but it may attract wildlife that is attracted to the salts. This is best done on rocks, pine needles, and gravel. If you need to go number 2, find a spot that is at least 200 feet from any water source, then dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and bury the human waste. Toilet paper should be packed out. There are also commercially available bags to pack out human waste.
  4. Leave what you find – remember the quote “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.” ― Aliyyah Eniath, The Yard.  
  5. Minimize campfire impacts – Know the regulation for setting up a campfire before arrival, make sure the fire is completely extinguished before you leave the area.
  6. Respect wildlife – observe wildlife from a distance, and do not feed them, no matter how cute they look. Secure your food supplies according to regulation, for example, hang your food bag or use a bear-resistant container.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors – the trails are meant to be shared. Please respect the trail etiquette and be considerate of others. Generally, the hikers headed downhill will yield to the uphill hikers, hikers will yield to equestrians, and that bicyclists will yield to both hikers and equestrians. Keep pets under control at all times on trails and camps. If you would like to hike with your dogs, you should also look up whether they are allowed on that particular trail. Some areas prohibit dogs or require them to be on a leash at all times. Other offensive behaviors on the trails observed are loud music and smoking.

I realize that there are a lot of information presented on these two posts, but I do not want you to feel discouraged to start hiking. I suggest that you start with neighborhood trails carrying your ten essentials. Slowly add more mileage and elevation as you work up your comfort level. I hope that with these two hiking essentials posts, you are now armed with enough knowledge and be on your way to find that perfect trail and don’t miss out on those beautiful views and amazing experiences. If you want to follow more of our outdoor adventures, please follow us on Instagram @nourishedjourneys.

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