I’ve loved to hike since shortly after I started going to a summer camp at which you hike one or two mountains each summer and then after summer camp, my mother began dragging me up Mt Washington every year. I eventually became known as an expert hiker at camp, and I think it is perhaps the only sport I was ever any good at. It makes me so happy that more and more people are interested in going out and walking in the woods for exercise and to appreciate nature. The natural environment is free entertainment and it doesn’t take much to find a wooded area near you to enjoy. If you’re going out for the first time, or even if you frequent the woods, here are some tips to make your experience better for you and better for nature.
Stay on the trail When you go into the woods it is important to stay on marked trails. We are visitors in the woods and many delicate plants and animals live in the forest. If one person walks through the woods one day, going wherever he wants, it won’t hurt much. However, it’s important to remember that you are not the only person going out into the woods. Imagine how many feet it takes to make visible trails. Now imagine those feet all over the forest, trampling new plants and breaking twigs off of bushes. Marked trails are not only there to keep you from getting lost in the woods (which is a wonderfully helpful purpose) but to protect the plants and animals of the forest from humans.
If you are above the tree line, this is especially true. The moss and lichen that grows on the rocks look sturdier and like something you can step on, but it is particularly fragile and takes a long time to grow. The eco-systems in hard to reach areas are particularly special and extra care should be taken when in them.
Watch where you step This advice isn’t only to protect nature, but to take care of your feet. Don’t step on rocks or roots when hiking because your feet will be much more sore at the end of your walk then if you had placed your foot on dirt or soft moss with each step. I was recently walking on a beautiful trail covered with soft moss. In this case it was flat, but be careful because wet moss can be very slippery.
Don’t break trees or take things Don’t break tree limbs or take leaves off of trees. Trees are living things. Leave the limbs where you find them and if they are blocking the path, try to move them out of your way gently! Be aware, if you are with others, don’t let them snap back into the next person’s face. Don’t take things you find on your walk. What if everyone who walked the trail took a rock with them? Remember the saying “Take nothing but memories (pictures), leave nothing but footprints. ” Consider making a scrapbook of your photographs to serve as a memento of your walk. Instead of a rock or stick collection, pick a favorite pose and have your photo take at an interesting spot on each hike and make that your collection.
One exception to the “Take nothing” rule I always try to take a plastic bag with me, or something that I can use to carry trash back out of the woods. Picking up trash is one of the few reasons I will make an exception and step off of a marked trail. Be careful that you don’t hurt yourself picking up trash, but recognize that it is always the right thing to do.
Take a communications device. No matter how much you want to get back to nature and commune with the environment, always take a communications device with you. We learned this the hard way. I remember once when Jon and I were still dating, we decided to “be out in nature” and go for a hike. We intentionally left all of our communications devices in the car (I believe that between us we had 2 cell phones and 3 pagers). We went out for a one hour hike in the late afternoon and ended up lost in the blinding dark woods for hours. We absolutely passed the point where we would have called someone for help. We were out there long enough that when we finally emerged and stumbled on a police car who could take us back to where we were parked, the park rangers were actually getting ready to search for the owners of the abandoned car in the parking lot. We learned our lesson that day and my advice to you is, turn off the ringer, put your phone in your bag and don’t think about it, but take it with you. In that case we had no understanding of how large the woods we were hiking in were or how easily one could get lost in the woods.
Take a map Find out if there is a map of the area you are going to. One thing we also learned from our incident being lost in the woods is that there are maps of all the trails in that area. Many places have trail maps, even the small woods at the retreat I am currently at has a map!
Watch your step! Be careful of stepping on rocks. Rocks can be deceptive. Sometimes solid looking rocks will move, and they can be much more slippery than you would imagine.
Getting out into nature, even for just a short while is good for the soul.
p.s. if you are going on anything more than a short walk in the woods, take a reusable water bottle.
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