It’s summer in Maine and like many others, I love to go for a hike! However, I also know that many trails in Maine are rugged and remote. Conditions changes with altitude and cell phones often don’t work. So, I do some careful planning before the start of every hike so that if something goes wrong there is a plan in place. Here are some steps I take before heading out for a day on the trail.
Weather, weather weather! I always check the weather. When hikers get into trouble a common cause is “unforeseen” weather conditions. Get the NOAA weather report for the day. Look at the hour-by-hour graphic and pay attention to temperature, wind and precipitation. If you are heading into the Whites, call AMC at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (603) 466-2721 to get the high summits weather forecast.
Know the route details - total distance, elevation change, exposure, water crossings. I think of 1,000 feet of elevation as requiring roughly the equivalent level of effort as walking 3-5 miles on a level trail. If you are in a group, keep in mind that some people take more time going up and others take more time going down. Trail difficulty, the amount of time above treeline, and water crossings are all important variables to consider too.
Make sure someone back home knows the plan. Let someone know your route and when you plan to return. You can also leave a note on the dashboard of your car. When I am hiking solo, I share my location with my husband on Google maps. To save on the cell phone battery, I leave the phone on airplane mode until I reach treeline. Once I’m above the trees, I take the phone off airplane mode so my husband can track my progress.
Bring enough gear to survive the night. It doesn’t have to be a comfortable night, just one you and your co-hikers live through. The most likely danger is hypothermia, so bring enough layers, emergency sleeping bags, emergency shelter, food, etc., to make it through.
Have a Map/Compass/GPS. I like a map and compass because there are no batteries. GPS devices have advantages too. If you have an InReach or another kind of emergency locator, that’s great. Just keep in mind that satellite-dependent electronics are often unreliable under a heavy tree canopy.
Establish a turnaround time. I always tell fellow hikers that the mountain top is optional, the parking lot is not —meaning I don’t care how far we go as long as we get back safely. Pick a time to turn around and stick with it.
Bring adequate food and water for the day, including water for your dog. Maintaining energy levels and staying hydrated are important. I hike with my dog and while I don’t necessarily bring food for her for a day hike, I carry as much water for her as I do for me. Sure, she loves to drink from streams, but on some hikes there aren’t any.
Carry a whistle and a knife. If you get lost or injured you can shout for help, but your voice is likely to wear out in 20-30 minutes. You can blow on a whistle a lot longer. Three blasts on a whistle is a distress call. A knife is a versatile tool that is always good to have handy.
Review an appropriate clothing and gear list. There are a number of websites and publications with hiking gear lists: boots or shoes, clothing layers, backpack, first aid kit, etc. I like to look at one before I head out just to make sure I haven’t forgotten something.
Have fun! Take pleasure in the day; enjoying the outdoors, being with friends, and traveling a new or familiar trail. Maine has a lot to offer!