Let the adventure begin. You’ve got everything ready, you have a plan – now let’s get there and hit the trail.
Before Leaving the Trailhead:
- Take in liquid and electrolytes.
- Turn on your GPS. It might say it knows where you are right away, but it could take 5-15 minutes for it to zero in on you, especially if there are mountains, trees or cloud cover in the area
- If you’re with other people, compare and discuss contents of each others packs. Are 5 first aid kits really needed? Has your least fit person packed a 2 liter coke bottle, a 4 course meal for the summit and enough clothes for a week in the Andes? Consider this reality in your discussion (VERY IMPORTANT): as you get further up the trail, less fit people or younger children will become less motivated to continue because of fatigue. To keep them motivated, the more fit people will often offer to carry stuff for that person, so the whole group can keep moving toward your destination. It’s easier to shed unnecessary stuff at the trailhead than an hour into the hike.
- Set your trekking poles to “uphill” length – the idea is to have your arms bent at 90 degrees while using them).
- Put your pack on and adjust the straps. Use the waist strap effectively to shift the weight from your shoulders to your waist – this act alone will save you later in the day. Having the weight on your shoulders will cause shoulder, back and even leg pains. Your hips are built to carry the weight, so let them.
On the trail tips:
- Put your slowest person in front, and let them set the pace.
- The navigator should stay within shouting distance of the lead to make sure you get to your intended destination.
- Stop and rest as needed. Look for photo ops, and don’t forget to snack. 5-10 minutes stops every hours is a good rule of thumb.
- If you have children with you, it’s easier to keep track of them if you sandwich them with adults and don’t let them run ahead. This is also a good technique for safety reasons.
- Monitor your body temperature – you don’t want to get too cold or too hot – add and remove layers as necessary. If you stop for more than 5 minutes in a breezy area, put on a layer to prevent chills.
- Wildlife can hear you usually before you see them. If wildlife makes you uncomfortable, make more noise – they will usually scatter to avoid contact, especially if you’re in a group. If you spot wildlife and want to observe them “Don’t move a muscle!” If you’re moving and making noise, they will see you and run. If you’re stopped and not making noise, they might look your way and never see you. Without movement animals (and people) have to revert to pattern recognition to identify objects, which is much harder then seeing movement.
- Be aware of you’re surroundings. Try to identify the fauna (animals) and flora (plants) in that environment. As you hike, you will go through many habitat types, so plants and animals change. If you are gaining elevation, you will also be going through various seasonal stages (as you go up, growing seasons shorten). One week you might see Asters blooming at 8400 feet, the next week they will be blooming at 8800 feet.
- Drink enough liquid and eat salty foods to stay hydrated. Monitor your dehydration status to avoid headaches and disorientation. Here’s a little known fact – your body has a built-in dehydration monitoring tool – urine. As you get more dehydrated, your urine will get darker yellow and flow amounts will decrease. If you’re drinking a lot, but it seems to go right through you and comes out clear, your electrolytes are out of balance – you need more salt. Electrolytes help your cells absorb water and is crucial in staying hydrated.
- Talk to people you pass and ask them about the trail ahead. You will be amazed at what you learn.
- Watch the skies for changing weather conditions
- As you get to higher elevations, oxygen levels to drop (the air is thinner up there). You will noticed it in your breathing and muscles – it feels like you just don’t have the energy that you should. Since you’re day hiking, you don’t give your body time to acclimate to it. Most people can just push through it, but some people get altitude sickness. Symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and headaches. The best remedy is to descend down to an elevation where the symptoms go away.
- As you come across difficult terrain (a rushing creek, exposure to steep dropoffs), know your limitations and the limitations of those you are with. Do not push it, the consequences might not be worth it.
- Stay on the trail, especially if you’re unfamiliar with that area. Do this for 2 reasons – 1. It helps prevent erosions. 2. What looks like a shortcut might actually be a trail to a different destination.
Reaching your destination
- You made it! Reward yourself. Take your pack off and stay a few minutes (put on a layer of clothing so you don’t get chilled).
- My destination routines include taking pictures, eating a snack, making hero calls to my wife, checking stats on my GPS (miles, time, elevation gain) and just taking in the beauty.
- When you’re ready to go, adjust your trekking poles to “downhill” length – usually 2-3 inches longer than the uphill length.
- I almost forgot – at this stage, my muscles are usually sore, and I might have a headache. I usually take a few celebratory ibuprofen, which provides great relief.
- Photos taken in morning and evening hours are more impressive because of shadows. Midday photos turn out bland without shadows. You just can’t see details and scale as well.
- When you see a scene that takes your breath away, it’s unlikely you will be able to capture the same feeling in a photo. There are things you can do to make it come close though.
- Don’t try to get everything in a single photo. Determine a main subject (like a mountain or a flower) and eliminate other clutter. Once you start taking photographs, you will see what I mean.
- Include other stuff in the photo to enhance the main subject. I like taking landscape pictures, so I need to find stuff that will help show the scale of my main subject. I get down close to the ground so stuff shows up in the foreground. The rule of thumb is you need something in the foreground, mid-ground and background.
- Shots of water features (creeks, cascades, waterfalls) look cool if you can slow the water down. You can do this by setting a longer exposure time on your camera. This increases the likelihood of blur, so you might need a mini-tripod.
- Taking wildlife shots is tricky. Get your camera ready with as little movement and noise as possible. Concentrate on getting your best shot first. Even from several hundred feet away, the clicking of a camera is just not natural, and animals will scatter.