It appears that summer has finally decided to grace us with its presence. It’s about time. If autumn rolls in on time, it will mean that we lost about one month of warm summer weather and with it, quite a few trips into the mountains. Luckily, outdoor enthusiasts from the Sacramento/Placer/El Dorado areas a close to some great trails in the mountains.
It also means that the temperatures in the foothills and the valley haven’t been roasting everyone. With the temperatures steadily staying warm, the snow is rapidly melting, and the rivers remain very fast, very cold, and quite high.
The trails into the Desolation Wilderness are steadily more accessible as the snow recedes. Hiking into the back country is still a bit of an unknown at higher elevations. Trails that traverse north facing slopes will be the last to lose all the snow that piled up last autumn, winter, and spring.
With the hiking season more open now, it seems a good time to review some hiking and safety issues. Being prepared while out in the woods is more than a marketing ploy.
There are some things that should always be in your pack. It makes no difference if your hike is short, long, a day trip, or a few nights long, some things just need to be with you.
Water should always be with you. How much depends on how long you plan to be out there. If your trip is longer than a day, take a water purifier with you.
Your food supplies need to cover your planned time on the trail, plus a little bit. Take food that will provide the nutrition and calories necessary for sustained hiking. Always take chocolate, no matter what. It’s just good, especially out in the middle of nowhere.
Your flashlight and headlight need to be with you, along with extra, fresh batteries. Just because your plans are for a daylight hike doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be delayed and have the need for light.
Matches and something to make a fire, in the appropriate places, should be in a waterproof container in your pack.
A map of the area you will be visiting, along with a compass, need to be readily available. Ideally, you or someone in your group, should have a working knowledge of how to use a map and a compass. A GPS device is handy, but only if it has good batteries and can connect with its mothership. Without a map though, it does you no good.
Sunglasses and sunscreen are necessary no matter the season. The sunglasses will protect your eyes from being toasted by the sun and hit by bugs and flying tree debris, and the sunscreen will keep your skin from being burned by the sun. Sunburn can be very painful in addition to be a health concern while in the woods. Along with the sunscreen, take plenty of insect repellent.
A good, up to date first aide kit is essential. You never know what will happen out there. There are pre- packaged wilderness first aide kits available. It’s quite possible to build your own. Whatever meds that are in your first aide kit need to be fresh. If you have a medical condition that requires medication, take enough with you to cover not only your planned time out on the trail, but enough to cover a few days, just in case things either go wrong or become too interesting to head back too quickly.
Take extra clothing. Layers are the key. Put more on when it’s cold, take things off when it warms up. In your extra clothing stash should be something to keep you dry. If you don’t have wet weather gear, at least put in a couple of large black plastic trash bags. These are easily converted to ponchos and will do a reasonable job of keeping you dry. Cold and wet are really bad combinations while out in the forest.
The clothing you wear, and the extra you take, should be synthetic. The synthetic fabrics dry quickly and wick moisture away from your skin. Cotton, as nice as it is, does not dry well, and will trap moisture. Leave the cotton clothing at home, all of it.
Take a hat with you. Hats keep the sun out of your face, off your neck, and can provide warmth on chilly days. If you have the right hat, you’ll look really cool too.
A good knife, something along the lines of the venerable Swiss Army style, should be in your gear as well. A military type survival knife is another option.
Along with all of the gear, make certain that your footwear is up to the task. Leave a note or a message with someone about where you are going and when you plan to be back. Check the weather before you head out. Check and double check your gear. Having too much generally isn’t a problem. Not having enough always is. Stay safe, keep hiking, stay outside.