By Katie Salvatore
Hiking is a great activity: healthy, fun, and good for all ages and abilities. The Lake Sunapee region has a huge number of hiking trails from easy, level hikes to long & steep mountain trails that can challenge expert hikers.
However, being in the woods has its dangers and things can go bad quickly. By following these tips and staying smart, you can easily avoid many of the pitfalls and have a great time.
Stay on the Trail: Not only is this important for the environment (stepping on the ground compresses the soil, harming the plants which are also damaged by just being stepped on) but it is incredibly easy to get turned around in the woods.
A few feet off the trail, the markers disappear and you can head in the wrong direction. Unfamiliar trees all look the same. The area off the trail can be dangerous as well.
Soil near rivers can give way, rocks can be slippery, and plants can be poisonous. In addition, there can be special agreements with the land owners, or those of neighboring properties, that prohibit travel off of the trails.
Note the Trail Markers: Trails are marked by “blazes” on trees in different colors and shapes. Remember what color your trail blazes are so, if you turn onto another trail, you’ll know soon and can find your way back.
Leash Your Dog: They might be very well behaved and want to wander about but, just as it is important for you to stay on the trail, it is also important for them.
Wildlife can be disturbed by their presence and their smell; new surroundings and scents can confuse dogs, as well. Be sure to check if dogs are allowed on the particular trail.
Bring Water and Food: Hiking is more strenuous than just walking or running thanks to the terrain. You’ll need both water and sustenance. If you get lost or take the wrong turn on a trail, you’ll be glad you have it, too. Homemade trail mix is the best.
Do Not Eat Anything Wild: The amount of berries and mushrooms that can at best cause a stomach ache and at worst cause hospitalization or death would surprise you. Even if it looks familiar, it probably is something different.
What looks like cranberries may actually be deadly nightshade. Wildlife also depend on the food growing here, so save yourself a stomach ache and give them a meal.
Understand Cell Service is Spotty: Some areas of the trails will cut out momentarily. It happens. Make sure you have anything you need, like maps, in hard copies.
If you really need your phone, check occasionally as you walk and make note of a good service spot. Walk back to it if you need it or keep walking until you get to a better spot. It’s best to assume you won’t be able to use it, though, which isn’t always a bad thing.
If you do not have a compass you can download a compass app for your phone.
Look at a Map: Most maps are at the trail heads or available online; it’s best to print it out or have it saved on your phone so that, if cell service goes out you’ll still have it. If there is only a picture of the map at the trail head, take a photo of it. Although many trails are self-contained, there are quite a few that interconnect and are easy to get mixed up on.
Know When the Sun is Going Down: This sounds silly but, here, the sun sets at 4:00 in the winter and 9:00 in the summer. Be aware of when it’s going to get dark so you’re not stuck a mile into the trail when the darkening of the sky reminds you.
Bring a Flashlight: Even if it’s light when you’re hiking, it’s still a good idea. If you get lost, delayed, or just need to find something in your car later, it’ll be a good thing to have.
Be Aware of Trail Closings: Sometimes trails, or parts of trails, can be closed due to weather damage or maintenance. Do not try to go around the barriers or past the closed points. They are closed for a reason.
Watch the Weather: Some of these trails can take a couple hours to hike and take you a few miles; check the weather for the entire day and watch the sky. Most of the summer is under constant threat of thunderstorms, so know when there are warnings. You don’t want to be on top of a mountain when a thunderstorm rolls in (although the view is incredible).
Wear Good Shoes: Flip-flops or crocs are not okay! These trails often involve scurrying up rocks or going down steep inclines. After a hard rain they can also get seriously muddy. Flip flops make you flop on your face.
Wear Good Clothes: Layers are always a good thing. When traveling up hills and mountains, temperatures can change significantly. The top of mountains can be very windy as well and, as you exercise, you will get a lot warmer. Shorts or at least unrestrictive pants make hiking easier, too.
If You See Wildlife, Don’t Bother It: Most wildlife is more afraid of you than you are of it (except squirrels); they normally stay away from areas with humans. That being said, don’t mess with them.
These trails enter into their world. If a deer passes by, it might pause and watch you before running off. Don’t scare it by moving towards it. Respect the animals.
Bears really don’t want to engage with humans and will most likely run if they see you. Bear attacks are extremely rare but if they feel threatened or cornered, they might be inclined to try to scare you away with a growl or a pretend attack known as a false charge.
For more information about New Hampshire’s bears see the website of Ben Kilham.
Tell Someone Where You are Going/When You’ll be Returning: When your cell phone cuts out and you need help or are lost, you’ll be glad someone knows where you are and can tell the police. There are many miles of trails and many acres of forests in the area – help narrow down the search. They will also know to raise the alarm when they haven’t heard from you.
Know Some Basic Outdoor Stuff: Moss does not grow on one side of a tree, but the sun does rise in the east and set in the west. Most trails start at the bottom of hills, so if you get turned around, head down.
Learn to recognize poison ivy and maybe bring extra clothes in case you get wet. Know what to do in an emergency in case it happens to you or you have the chance to help someone.
Don’t be Embarrassed to Ask For Help: If you’re turned around or just aren’t quite sure which way to go at a fork, ask another hiker if they’re there. They’ll probably be glad to help you and it could save you a few hours and miles of erroneous walking.
Know That You’re Going to be Okay: Most hikes are fun and wonderful; it’s just that when things go wrong, they can go very wrong. A few precautions can save you – and the rescue crews – a lot of trouble.