Hiking Tpis

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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Ten Important Things To Know
When Hiking Off Trail
By Jim Hyde

New England Poet Robert Frost wrote, "The woods are lovely, dark and
deep" in one of his many classic poems, and indeed there’s something
fascinating about the pristine New England wilderness that compels us to
wander into the region’s wondrous forests simply because of how peaceful
they are. To many adults looking for a break from the confines of the nine-to-
five cubicle, the forest is as alluring as is an arcade to a kid who’s been in a
classroom for too long.

With so much New England forestland begging exploration, hiking is one of
the favored pastimes for those who visit here in the spring, summer and fall,
whether it be on a recreation path, an established hiking trail of off trail.
Of those options, the last can be the most enjoyable and challenging, but also
the most dangerous, including for experienced hikers. It’s off trail hiking that
you can get into the serious jam. That’s especially so, if the weather changes
and you’re off trail in a sudden snowstorm, rain or a thick fog.

This article offers some safety tips culled from personal experience, as well as
the hiking trials and tribulations of others, and offers some ways to avoid
getting lost, injured or worse. It also includes what you should do if you
encounter some forest residents who consider your intrusion unwelcome.
Before you decide to heed the call of the wild, consider ten potential
problems that could challenge even the most seasoned hiker.

First. Make sure you know how to use some basic hiking tools. Read and
learn before you head off into the thick, dark yonder. Learning the
fundamentals will do two major things: 1. Teach you what to look for to
enjoy, such as wild flowers, wildlife and the wonder of nature itself; and
2. Warn you about the dangers posed by wild flowers, wildlife and nature.

Second. The potential for getting lost rises in direct proportion to one’s lack
of understanding of the terrain ahead of and behind you. You need to have a
fundamental idea about what you’ll encounter, such as: rivers, streams, cliffs,
etc. by looking at a map (preferably a topographical map that shows
elevations in the terrain) before you start out.

Third. Make sure you have the right hiking boots, good socks and clothing
for your hike. Actually, you should have a good backpack in which you can
store a change of clothes in case you fall into a river or get caught in the rain.
Staying dry is critical if you get lost and have to rough it until you get found.
Wearing shorts on a summer hike is fine, but make sure you use sprays to
keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay. DEET works best on mosquitoes,
but many folks aren’t enthusiastic about its use. There are natural alternatives
at most sporting goods stores. It’s particularly important to keep mosquitoes
off . They carry a number of encephalitis-type diseases, some of which can be
life threatening. Ticks, especially the smaller ones, are well known for
carrying Lyme Disease.

Fourth. If you’re new to an area, in addition to knowing something about the
terrain, you’ll also need to know if you can reverse an unmarked trail if you
encounter a situation that could leave you trapped otherwise. The great
danger here is that because you’re off trail, people won’t know where to look
for you. That leaves you exposed, and unless you’re experienced in the wild,
you face dehydration, malnourishment and the elements, any one of which
can be a very serious threat. If you’re going hiking off trail, let someone know,
even if it’s your hotel’s concierge, and let him or her know approximately
when you expect to return. In addition, to find your way back, you can tie
short pieces of fabric to trees, but make sure you remove them when you

Fifth. Watch your step when you’re near a stream or river. Many people,
confident that they’re coordinated enough to stoop down to fill their canteens,
sometimes find a riverbank a less-than-reliable foothold and themselves
falling in. Wet clothing, especially wet socks, can turn into a very serious
problem in the wild. Remember too that, river boulders can be notoriously
slippery, especially after rain, so if you jump from one rock to another, look
for the driest spot on each rock and aim for it.

Sixth. If you find yourself having to cross a river, remember that in water only
one foot deep, a fast current can knock you off balance surprisingly fast,
especially if you’re on mossy rocks at the bottom of the riverbed. Make sure
you cross where the current is relatively slow. If you fall, grab onto a boulder,
tree or anything solid to prevent being swept downstream where you may
wind up in white water. Even though white water is loaded with air, you still
can’t breath in it, and a hydraulic (the point at which water cascades
downward like a water fall and churns the water at the bottom of the fall), can
trap and pin you under water, unable to either escape or breathe.
Seventh. Hiking near a ravine, cliff or steep mountainside can be a major
challenge to many less experienced hikers. Beware of slippery surfaces (moss,
sandy soil, loose rocks, dead trees and wet leaves) when you’re walking near
the edge.

Eighth. Wildlife encounters with small critters don’t present much of a threat
unless that cute, furry little beastie is a raccoon or skunk wandering around in
the daytime and acting oddly. Both raccoons and skunks are nocturnal, so if
they’re walking around during the day, steer clear. They could have rabies
and animals with rabies tend to get very aggressive. Getting sprayed by a
skunk is far less of a problem than is being bitten by a rabid one. For
encounters with other animals, please see, Animals to Be Aware of when
Hiking or Camping, which appears on NewEnglandTimes.Com.

Ninth. You played football, lacrosse, hockey and baseball and you think
you’re in shape, so why worry about a walk through the woods? No big deal,
right? Not necessarily. It can be very easy to start the journey convinced that
all will go well…until you encounter something completely unexpected and
haven’t a clue how to deal with it, or that climbing a hill that looked like a
snap took much more out of you than you thought it would. You want to
enjoy your hike, not get winded by it. When you expend a lot of energy and
moisture, you need to replace it, especially water. But beware of brook and
river water, which may appear crystal clear. It’s what the human eye can’t see
that’s dangerous. It may contain various parasitic protozoa that can make you
dreadfully ill. The only way to make brook or river water safe is with iodine
(which comes in various forms and can be purchased at most sports stores) or
by boiling it.

Tenth. To avoid an encounter with larger animals, it’s a good idea to make
noise as you go along by whistling or occasionally shouting. This works
particularly well with black bear and moose that inhabit the woods
throughout most of New England. If you should see one, never approach a
bear, moose or a deer.

About the author:

James H. Hyde is Co-Founder and Editor of www.NewEnglandTimes.com He
has served as Managing Editor of three magazines, written two syndicated
columns, was Editor of "The Desktop," a newsletter about desktop publishing
and is co-author of "The Plain English Guide to Desktop Publishing."
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