Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips For Hiking Alone

Know the area. People take for granted how much they know about the natural environment in which they live. Odds are, you can identify the poisonous vegetation in your area, are familiar with what kinds of wild animals you might run into, and know how extreme the temperatures can get. So if you’re going to start hiking by yourself, it’s best to do so near your hometown. Even better, try a place you’ve visited before with friends. You’ll be surprised at how different things look on your own.

Tell someone of your whereabouts. Be sure to check in with a friend about where you’re going, and when you plan on getting home.  (Don’t forget to call them when you get back – you don’t want to leave them worrying, do you?) In case something does happen (of course it won’t, but if it does) someone will know right away that you’re missing. Once you’ve told someone where you’re headed, stick to that plan! No changing your mind at the last minute and taking a different trail.You want everyone to have an accurate idea of where you are, so that help can find you if you need it.

Check in at the ranger station. This is always a good idea. Whenever you go on a hike, be sure to stop by the ranger’s station. Give them your name, and let them know that you’ll be hiking alone. Tell them that you’ll check in again on your way out.  (Once again, don’t forget to do so!) Be sure to clear your hiking route with the park rangers – they will know which trails are open, and which are the best (and safest) for solo hikers.

Read the weather report. I near the Great Smoky Mountains , where we have a saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. I’ve literally seen a sky go from sunny and cloudless to dark and hailing in about 15 minutes. Fortunately, I was inside at the time. But if you’re hiking and the weather turns foul, odds are you won’t have time to get yourself back to your vehicle or to a ranger station without getting soaked first. So check the weather report before you leave, and pay attention to the sky – and your fellow hikers. If everyone else is headed back to their cars, that’s a sign that you should, too.

Choose a busy trail. Trails that see lots of foot traffic are better-maintained and safer than more secluded ones. Plus you’re bound to run into a few other explorers, so if you need it, help will just be a few shouts away. Don’t worry that your alone-time will be interrupted – even on popular trails, you might pass a lot of people, but I can guarantee that few will stop to chat – after all, they’re hiking.

Know your limitations. If you rarely work out and get winded walking to the mailbox and back, then maybe you shouldn’t commit to a seven-mile hike. Err on the side of caution and remember that fatigue can creep up on you. Try a neighborhood hike first, to see what you’re able to do and how quick your pace is. This will better help you gauge your abilities (and your time) when you go out alone in the woods.

Stick to the path. It seems like most disastrous hiking stories begin when someone willingly takes a wrong turn. However tempting it might be, don’t wander off the trail and into the woods. Your trampling could cause a lot of damage to plant and animal life. Even worse, you could step onto unstable ground (think rock slides or avalanches). Not only is going off-trail dangerous (because, let’s face it, you will get lost), it’s also illegal in many national parks.

Bring supplies. Always bring the following with you: a sweater, a snack, a map, a first-aid kit, and more water than you think you’ll need. When you’re alone, you won’t have anyone else to mooch off of. And convenience stores aren’t exactly easy to come by when you’re in the middle of the woods. Be responsible: stay hydrated, keep your blood-sugar up, and take care not to get too cold or too over-heated. Since you’re on your own, it’s up to you to take care of yourself.

Make sure your vehicle is up to it. There’s nothing worse than returning from a hike to the comfort of your vehicle to find the engine is dead. Or worse still, not getting to your hike at all because your car died on the way. And since a lot of hiking areas are away from the city, on rural roads that don’t see a lot of traffic, you could be in a lot of trouble if your car breaks down. So make sure that your vehicle is up to the task – whether it’s dirt roads or highway driving – and will get you where you need to go and back home again, safely.

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