Hiking Tip #4: Know what to expect from your hike
I am no expert on hiking. Do hiking experts even exist? Maybe you could call guides and search and rescue workers expert hikers. Anyway, like I said, I’m no expert. I have run out of water, gotten lost on the trail more than once, and have surely made other hiking mistakes. However, I have hiked quite a bit, especially in National Parks, over the years. I’d like to think I’ve learned from my mistakes and have some tips and ideas to share with others who might not have too much hiking experience. I don’t know if these will help, but even if they can help just one person that would be good enough for me.Check out my previous hiking tips:
#4 Know What to Expect From the Hike
My fourth tip is to know what to expect from the hike you are going on. I’m not saying you necessarily need to plan ahead too much, but it’s a good idea to know the basics ahead of time. Things like the distance and elevation change are good examples of vital information you should know. Depending on where you’re hiking, there could be a simple trail map and statistics displayed at the trailhead. I’ve seen that’s often the case in National Parks, but certainly not always.
I think the most important thing is knowing the trail length before beginning your hike or at least an approximate distance. Then again, sometimes you think you know how long a trail is and you’re wrong. That happened to me and my wife on the Valley of the Five Lakes hike in Jasper National Park. I thought the hike was a certain distance, but the length of the total trail was actually about twice what I thought. That’s because I was thinking of the distance around four of the lakes for some reason and hadn’t added in the distance around the largest lake on the hike. We thought we were lost since we were on the trail considerably longer than we expected. I felt bad that I worried my wife. If we had the correct distance in mind, we wouldn’t have worried at all. So, that’s a big reason why you should know the trail length ahead of time. You certainly don’t want to embark on a long one-way hike when you only want to hike for a couple of miles.
Having an idea of a trail’s elevation change can also be very helpful. We all know there’s a big difference between a mostly level relaxing pathway and a steep and rugged trail. I suppose if you’re dressed and equipped for any kind of trail (easy, difficult, short, or long) it doesn’t matter much. However, if I think I’m only embarking on a short and easy trail I’m not normally bringing much more than some water with me.
Another thing to watch for is upcoming trail junctions and turnoffs. Most trails are easy to follow, especially if they don’t connect to any other trails. Sometimes, however, multiple paths intersect with each other, which can make things a little confusing if you’re not expecting it.
Several years ago I was hiking the famed Mist Trail in Yosemite with my friend Joe. We split up early on the trail and didn’t know ahead of time that there is a fork in the trail connecting with the John Muir Trail. We didn’t make specific plans ahead of time as far as if we would go to Nevada Fall or which way we would hike down. I tried to figure out which way my friend went for a while, before carrying on. It turns out I was ahead of him on the trail and didn’t end up seeing him again until several hours later in Yosemite Village. If we knew what was coming and planned better we could have met up somewhere later on the trail.
One other thing I think is good to know ahead of time is what kind of wildlife you could run into on the trail. There’s obviously no guarantee you’ll see any animals on your hike, but it can be a good idea to know what you could run into. If I’m hiking in grizzly country, I want to know it. That is going to change the way I hike. I’d be sure to make plenty of noise and be extra observant of my surroundings. If you’re hiking in bear country you’re most likely not going to see a bear, but it’s better to be “bear aware” just in case. By knowing that information ahead of time you may want to carry bear spray with you or decide to skip the hike altogether.
Those are just a few reasons why I think it’s a good idea to know what to expect when embarking on a hike. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons, but I think this a good starting point and will hopefully be enough to have you do just a little bit of research before hitting the trail.