I was born at the foot of a mountain, grew up on a hill, and for 8+ years hiked my way to school every day. It is therefore not surprising that I am obsessed with hiking. But, beyond obsession, why do I hike? Why should anybody hike? I hike because it restores my mental health and bandwidth. A recent study done at Stanford has shown that hiking for 9o minutes reduces neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is active during depression. Feeling those winter blues? Perhaps, it is time to seriously consider hiking. Read on as I share basic tips and steps to follow when planning a hike trip.
1. Research the trail
“Veni, vidi, vici”, I roared as I thumped my chest: I was Caesar and I had conquered my mountain. From my vantage point, I could see the finish line. As I hiked on, I imagined the procession of Translink buses ready to drive me home. When I arrived, the last bus of the day had just left. It might as well have left a note saying, “sleep with the bears, baby”.
Nasty things can happen when a hiking trip is not well planned: one fails to finish the trail, gets stranded on a mountain or, worst case scenario, goes blank during a rendezvous with a bear. I mitigate the chances of my hike adventure turning to “mis-adventurous” by doing a simple Google search. The following are things I look for:
- The difficulty level of the trail and whether it matches up with my fitness level
- Average time for trail completion
- Recent news update on the trail – for example: is that crucial bridge you need to cross closed for repairs?
- The attractions found on the trail
- Pet friendliness if I’ll have the company of a pet
- Trail safety and the weather. There are specialized weather apps for hike trails
- Is specialized gear required – like crampons if the trail is icy?
- Transportation options to and from the trail
Some of the above information is contained on specialized websites. For information on hike trails in Metro Vancouver I consult the vancouvertrails. For trails in Victoria, victoriatrails website is a good resource. When I am not able to find my trail on either website, the alltrails website is my last resort.
2. Think about and actively plan safety
“Where are you taking all those kitchen knives?” she asked. With a serious face I replied, “Well, if a bear attacks us, I’ll scratch it…”
In hindsight, I admit that planning to fight a bear with kitchen knives was a bad idea. Thinking about safety is a good first step but taking precautions that are proven to work is better. Here are some basic safety steps I take before going on a hike:
- Go with a friend(s)
- Stay close to other hikers
- Know how to access emergency services near your hike trail
- If the trail is dangerous, consider bringing a satellite phone- in my experience some trails have bad cellular network
- Read strategies on how to fend off bears
- On low traffic trails, know how to use a topographic map and compass
3. Things to pack and Extra tips
For any hiking trip, I recommend:
- Not eating heavy food or those which are hard to digest.
- Packing extra food and water bottles in case one gets lost on the trail
- Pack smart. There is a tradeoff between having all you can need and having light luggage. Find a good balance.
- Take pictures of what you see and create memories. BC hike trails are beautiful.
Hiking is an exciting hobby for anyone to take up. However, sometimes things can go wrong if proper planning is not done. I hope that this blog helps any student interested in hiking!