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"HIKE SAFE" THIS AUTUMN -- BE READY FOR WINTER-LIKE CONDITIONS IN THE MOUNTAINS
CONCORD, N.H. -- Fall foliage in New Hampshire's mountains is approaching its peak, and with the changing season comes new challenges for White Mountain hikers. With the cooler days, shorter daylight hours, and even snow at this time of year, outdoors experts are advising the Granite State's autumn visitors to "Hike Safe."
"New Hampshire's woods and mountains are a great place for recreation any time of year, but each season brings with it special challenges and hazards," says New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lieutenant Todd Bogardus. "The nature of the mountain environment is that it can be a dangerous place. Hikers who are looking forward to an autumn mountain adventure have to realize that winter-like conditions can come early to the mountains, so they must be prepared for conditions that are very different from those they may have enjoyed in the summertime."
Bogardus recommends that mountain visitors take special precautions to enjoy their adventures safely. "Hikers should most definitely look at high-mountain weather forecasts to be better prepared for conditions at this time of year," says Bogardus. "As a general rule, it's significantly colder and windier the higher you climb. As the season progresses, you're more likely to find snow and ice at higher elevations, too. Know the forecast and prepare for likely conditions with appropriate clothing. Even more critical --assess the actual conditions in the field and act accordingly."
High in the White Mountains, temperatures can reach the single digits even in September; winds are often strong and chilling; visibility can be very poor in low clouds; and early snows are possible. Dress in layers to suit varying conditions and carry extra warm clothing and raingear in your pack. Above all, warns Bogardus, "Don't press onward "no matter what" - adjust your actual trip to conditions as you find them, and plan ahead for a safe return. Be willing to turn back."
An often-overlooked factor is how short the daylight hours have become, and that they'll get even shorter as the season progresses. "An early start, taking maximum advantage of available daylight, is critical - as is having a good flashlight or headlamp, plus spare batteries, and a back-up source of light," cautions Bogardus. "Sometimes, hikers ignore what should be obvious and get caught out after dark with no light source. Then they then call for search and rescue resources to come help them get out of the woods."
As winter approaches, trail conditions can become more difficult. Rebecca Oreskes of the White Mountain National Forest notes that, "Before too long, trails will get snowy and icy, slowing people down as they try to find a safe way to negotiate slippery sections. Crampons - special ice spikes strapped to boots - or similar traction devices can make slick ice-covered stretches of trail much easier to travel. And if the going gets much slower than anticipated, don't hesitate to turn around and head back down.
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.
The hikeSafe "Hiker Responsibility Code" sums up the basic tenets of backcountry safety:
- Be prepared with 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;
- Those who know the code should share its lessons with others.
"Most autumn 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 http://www.hikesafe.com.