Hiking is not for everyone, but rules are. Hiking without rules is not an option, no matter what size or fitness level you are. If you don’t follow the rules, you shouldn’t be hiking.
You can go to any state or government website, NH State Parks (nhstateparks.org), NH Fish and Game (www.wildlife.state.nh.us) or the US Forest Service/White Mountain National Forest (fs.usda.gov/whitemountain/) and find basic to advanced information on hiking safety.
An excellent source for information is Hike Safe (http://www.hikesafe.com). Hike Safe was first introduced to the State of New Hampshire in 2003 as an educational tool to prepare people of all fitness levels to enter the forest prepared and aware of their surroundings. The program was developed by the State of NH Fish and Game Department and the White Mountain National Forest.
Since 2003, the Hike Safe program in NH has been developed with collaboration from the NH Outdoor Council (nhoutdoorcouncil.org), the Appalachian Mountain Club (outdoors.org) and SOLO (soloschools.com), one of the most respected full immersion wilderness medical schools in the US. Through the years, the program has evolved into a tool for safety, conservation and preparedness that can be used pretty much anywhere in the US. You can contact Hike Safe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With all that being said, I am not a government employee, a trained medical professional (Although I have a valid CPR and first aid certification card), or any expert, by any means, on hiking or hiking safety.
A lot of information about safety is common sense-but common sense is certainly not “common” any more. In the age where you order a cup of hot coffee and need to have, “caution, contents may be hot,” printed on your cup, it’s not just about frivolous lawsuits… it’s about pure stupidity and acts of recklessness. When you’re sweating at the top of a mountain at -20 degrees F or 90 degrees F full sun and your clothes are soaked…if you’re not prepared, you could be dead.
Hike Safe has “the Hiker Responsibility Code,” which usually is posted on signs on the major trailheads in NH. So when you pull up and see the sign or the brown board with the area map, trail information and any other signage, read it.
Each year, thousands of dollars and timeless man hours are spent on search and recovery missions to rescue inexperienced or unprepared hikers. A lot of time, money and most importantly, lives, could have been saved if the hikers would have planned their adventures more thoroughly. Yes, the unexpected could lead to danger for the most prepared, experienced hiker, but with the right knowledge and right gear, that person is more likely to survive.
I’m not going to copy and paste, so check out their site (http://www.hikesafe.com).
But the code goes something this;
You need to be responsible for yourself and:
- Knowledge (research trail, terrain, weather, trail conditions,etc).
- Gear (appropriate clothing, shoes, hydration, food, tools; being able to safely transport and use your gear).
- Plans (always leave your planned whereabouts, trailhead parking info and your expected departure/return times with someone that will know you may be in danger if you do not return within a set time frame).
- If not solo hiking (start as a group, stay as a group and let the slowest person set the pace. If you get so far ahead of your group and the slowest person is left alone and gets hurt or off trail, their likelihood of survival decreases by the hour).
- Know your limitations (If you’re too tired, cold, hungry, weak, dizzy, hot…STOP. It’s ok to turn back. Weather can change quickly. Trail conditions can change quickly. Be safe. If you have the right supplies and gear, take one minute to drink, eat, re-evaluate your safety and the safety of your team before you proceed).
- Emergencies (Long or short hikes can go bad quickly. There can be trails that become inaccessible by emergency transport, no cell service, no people for miles, even if you just got on the trail 15 minutes ago and you’re lost. You may not be rescued by anyone. You may have to rely on your knowledge and gear to stay alive and get to safety).
- Don’t be chavalier.
- Don’t be a jerk, it isn’t a race. (If it were a race, there would be safety measures everywhere). Don’t be an ass and try to show your friends how fit you are by running and; slipping on loose gravel, lichen covered rocks, ice-covered ridges, going the wrong way, falling backwards over the cliff’s edge while you’re taking your yoga selfie, or pulling your hamstring rock-hopping. While it is an adventure, safety should alway be paramount.
- In the heat of summer you’re in pretty good shape. It’s going to rain and it’s 80 degrees F at the bottom of the trail and you’re ascending 3,000 feet.
- You’re 30 minutes into your hike and it starts raining, no tree canopy and you’re soaked.
- At the top of the mountain you decide you’ve earned a break and so you and your friends find some cover and cop-a-squat for about 45 minutes, drink your 20 ounce water-whoops, you forgot your snack so you just chat and enjoy the pretty view.
- You don’t have a shell or waterproof pants and you’ve been sitting under a tree, soaked to the bone. Your friends are in shorts and lightweight jackets. It’s getting dark, so you think it may be a good time to head back.
- Do you think you’re in a good spot? Survey says, XXX, nope, no way.
- By the time you’ve hiked an hour and a half, the gain in elevation has made you slow down as the rain soaks through your clothing.
- You’re hot from all that work to get to the top, so you don’t notice the temperature had dropped 25 plus degrees.
- You have no way of drying off and you’ve stayed stationary too long, causing your body to chill, deeply-the kind of chill you can’t shake.
- You didn’t eat anything since that bagel 6 hours ago and you have no food to give you energy. You’ve only had 20 ounces of water to drink since breakfast. You’re have no idea you’re dehydrated. You’re feeling a little dizzy and your muscles hurt a little.
- Your feet are soaked and your socks are rubbing against your ankles and toes.
- Seriously you may not make it down. You could be hypothermic and loose feeling in your extremities, your muscles may not respond quickly, your feet could be sloughing through epithelial layers, causing cold, sharp pain. By that time, you’ve slowed down so much, your body is not moving enough to produce that exothermic heat release to get you warm again… there could be so many issues. OVERCONFIDENCE can kill.