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Hike with Sure Footing

Posted by Lauren Braden at Sep 14, 2011 03:45 PM |
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This summer several hikers have fallen to their deaths on the trail. In light of these tragedies, it is important to remind hikers to hike with sure footing. WTA provides some common sense tips to keep you safe.

In a nylon bag in my gear closet rests my Ten Essentials. If I go hiking, they go with me - no compromising. If I get turned around, I'll have a map and a compass. Should darkness fall too soon, I'll have my headlamp. If rain pours from the sky, my parka will keep me warm and dry.

Hiking will never be without risk - that's one of the challenges of this pastime. Each of us is responsible for our own safety in the backcountry, and so we pack the right things and take the right precautions to minimize those risks.

You've heard all this before. You've heard it from WTA. You've heard it from The Mountaineers. You read about safety in all of your hiking guidebooks. Pack the ten essentials. Know your limits. Hike with a partner. Leave your itinerary with someone. Yadda yadda yadda.

And yet, this summer has been a particularly deadly one for hikers. Yesterday we learned of the latest fatality. A Florida man was on a short hike up the Comet Falls Trail at Mount Rainier with his son when he fell off a steep cliff above Christine Falls.

Last week there were two hiker fatalities: a UW student fell near Kaleetan Peak, and a few days later a man fell off a cliff on Mt. Pilchuck. Earlier this summer were others, including an experienced mountaineer, and a young backpacker.

As I have read each of these sad stories, I think about my own close calls on the trail. We've all been there - skidding our boot across some loose gravel and feeling our heart skip a beat because there's a drop-off right there, or tripping over a tree root and almost taking a tumble down a hillside. It brings to mind some pretty critical hiking advice we don't often get around to talking about, much less thinking about when we're out there bounding down the trail, eyes fixed on the spectacular view.

Hike with sure footing.

It sounds simple and easy. It's common sense. Hiking is like walking, you put one foot in front of the other and up you go.

But the ground isn't flat, and you may have a heavy pack on that messes with your balance. Some trails pass right by steep cliffs. Snow may be slippery. Loose rocks can collect on top of trail tread. Here are a few tips:

  • Use trekking poles - these are great for keeping balance on steep trails, circumventing obstacles and crossing streams and snowfields - though beware that having good balance on your own two feet is the most essential.
  • As summer turns to fall, bring traction devices for your boots.
  • Keep your hands free by stashing or securing your camera while hiking.
  • When scrambling, check the stability of the rocks before you trust them with your weight.
  • Be aware of where you are standing. This is especially true when you are taking a photo or having a photo taken of you.
  • When hefting your pack, give yourself room to safely re-balance yourself.
  • Know when to turn around. Weather conditions change. Trails can have dangerous obstacles. Hikers get tired.

Be careful out there, and remember to hike with sure footing.