"hikeSafe" WHILE PLAYING IN THE OUTDOORS IN SPRING- May 2008
With the arrival of mid-April, many outdoor enthusiasts are thinking that winter is over, and surely spring is finally here. While that may be the case in some locations, hikers, climbers and skiers should be aware that winter conditions can linger well into May in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Keeping these sometimes challenging backcountry conditions in mind, the NH Outdoor Council is advising the Granite State's springtime visitors to "Hike Safe."
"New Hampshire's woods and mountains are a great place for spring recreation," notes New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lieutenant Todd Bogardus. "Whether engaging in activities such as hiking or backcountry skiing, there are many fantastic opportunities here. But the nature of the mountain environment is that it can be a dangerous place. Visitors who are looking forward to a mountain adventure have to realize that spring is very slow in coming, and winter conditions will persist here long after springtime appears further south and at lower elevations."
According to Bogardus, many areas in the mountains experienced more snowfall than in recent years, and the lingering snowpack, plus usual cool spring weather, mean that hikers and others need to take special precautions to enjoy their adventures safely.
"Hikers should expect to find deep snow that makes traveling and trail-finding difficult through April," notes Bogardus, "and that means bringing along snowshoes for springtime hikes." He also advises that as conditions cause ice or icy snow on trails, crampons (ice spikes, strapped to sturdy boots) or similar equipment will be needed for safe footing.
"Hikers should anticipate that extra time will be needed to locate snow-covered paths, and also to negotiate the snowy and icy trails," he adds.
While the eventually diminishing snow levels will make things a bit easier in time, that process will result in another spring hazard: challenging stream crossings. "Many backcountry river crossings are not bridged, and require care to cross safely even with low water levels," warns Bogardus. "With the extra water of snowmelt, plus more water from time to time due to spring rains, some stream crossings may be very difficult, or even impossible to negotiate safely. Hikers definitely need to be ready to change their plans if such obstacles present themselves."
Another prominent hazard, according to Bogardus, is that mountain weather in springtime is often much more severe than most people expect. "High in the White Mountains, temperatures can get below zero even in May, winds are often strong and chilling, visibility can be very poor in low clouds, and snow can fall at any time." Dressing in layers (to suit varying conditions), and taking warm clothing and raingear along, are recommended.
Some locations in the White Mountains have added hazards. "The Forest Service Snow Rangers on Mount Washington have noted a lot of avalanche activity this spring," says Rebecca Oreskes, of the White Mountain National Forest. "Similar hazards can be found in other areas, especially those with steep, open slopes. Avalanche awareness is critical for all backcountry hikers, climbers, and skiers, plus recognition of other hazards, such as falling ice and "undermined" areas, where there may be thin and weak snowcover over frigid streams."
Some guidelines for enjoyable and safe hiking are contained in the principles of "hikeSafe," a joint New Hampshire Fish and Game Department-White Mountain National Forest initiative to promote safe and responsible hiking.
Oreskes says that the hikeSafe "Hiker Responsibility Code" sums up the basic tenets of backcountry safety. "Spring hiking has great rewards, but it also comes with innate challenges and dangers. Being aware of and following the Code are important first steps toward an enjoyable and safe journey."
The Hiker Responsibility Code:
- Be prepared with the appropriate knowledge and gear;
- Let someone else know your plans;
- Hiking groups should stick together and not let themselves become separated;
- Hikers should always be ready to turn back if circumstances, such as changing weather, dictate;
- Hikers should be ready for emergencies, and, ideally, be set to effect "self rescue;" and
- Those who know the code should share its lessons with others.
"In spite of the challenges, most springtime visitors to our state's forests and mountains have great experiences," says Bogardus, "and there's a better chance of having a memorable and satisfying trip if hikers follow the hikeSafe principles."
For more information about the hikeSafe program, visit www.hikesafe.com.
PO Box 157
Kearsarge, NH 03847-0157
nhocsecretary at nhoutdoorcouncil dot org