Safe Hiking Tips|Making Difficult Choices
When it comes to safe hiking tips, experience really is the best teacher: Five hikers sat patiently on Caribou Valley Road (CVR) waiting for the rain to slow. They discussed multiple routes for the day and checked the NOAA radar at least a dozen times. River crossings and ridge lines were contemplated. Should we start in the rain and regroup on the first summit or change plans altogether?
This was day three of our Maine hiking trip. Our original plan was to hike fourteen miles over Sugarloaf, Spaulding, and Abraham in Stratton, Maine. The rain had been heavy overnight and continued to be as we sat on the CVR.
We had been awake since 4:45am preparing for this long hike both physically and mentally. Between my water, Gatorade, and a protein drink I had consumed over a liter of liquid. The other women had too, as we informed each other of the weather conditions after each bathroom break. The windows inside the car were fogged up and the river nearby only made the rain seem worse.
We had planned for an ambitious day of hiking, but as the rain continued, we were reminded of the safe hiking tips we’ve received over the years. Given the current conditions and the discouraging weather reports, we made the difficult decision to hike only Sugarloaf and Spaulding, leaving Abraham for another day. We drove down the road to Sugarloaf and ate our second breakfast while analyzing the ski trail map. With our new route, we’d be hiking 11.25 miles. Only three miles less than our original plan, but we’d avoid the exposed ridge between Spaulding and Abraham. We also wouldn’t have to cross multiple streams that were already knee high.
The start of the hike was wet and foggy, but not nearly as bad as if we had started out an hour before. The conditions that morning were perfect for getting hypothermia. Hiking fourteen miles with no quick bailouts would not have been wise. With every muddy step, we felt better about the difficult decision we made to cut the hike short and grateful for our waterproof/breathable rain gear that kept us dry without overheating.
When we arrived at the summit of Sugarloaf, the conditions reminded me of a typical day on Mount Washington. We were completely fogged in with powerful gusts of wind. It was difficult to make out the blazes over to Spaulding, but once we did, we made sure our group of five were within sight of each other as we made our way into the woods. The path was out of the wind, but covered with water. We became accustomed to hopping rock to rock and quickly scooting our way around the deepest puddles.
Had we decided to push ourselves the full 14 miles in these nasty weather conditions, this challenging hike could have become miserable or turned very dangerous. By remembering basic safe hiking tips, in addition to a memorable experience, I now have a reason to come back to the area. Mount Abraham is one of those peaks to do in the best weather you can get and I look forward to taking it on soon.
The mountains will always be there. We have to make the right choices to be there too. Stay safe out there this summer.