Published on October 3rd, 2014 | by Editor0
How to Enjoy An Autumn Day Hike and Come Back Alive
Scenario: It’s Sunday in September and you’re on a solo day hike on a somewhat remote trail. You’ve told a friend about your hike and what to do if you aren’t at work Monday morning. The weather has been great but as the sun lowers, you notice the air becoming chillier. Winter is coming. You haven’t seen other hikers for a while. You’re still about four miles from the trailhead. Stepping across a log you inadvertently place your foot on a large rock. The crunch as your ankle rolls to the outside is not pleasant and neither is your attempt to walk. Ow. Ow! Expletives! Ow! You try to stand, but crumple instead. More outbursts.
A pain-filled assessment of the situation beyond your toes isn’t good either. No cell reception. Dusk turns to darkness, and begins to impair your vision significantly. Sweat build-up and the chilly air makes your skin start to tingle. No longer a hiker, you are a victim – a shivering victim. The sweater helps, but the wind slices right through it. Walking is not an option. The realization that this is going to be a sit-and-wait-until-morning event washes over you. What do you do?
Simple swaps in seasonal gear change this scenario from one with a sad ending to one with a story of spending a crummy, uncomfortable night without enough to eat and then being helped out of the backcountry by SAR volunteers, but under your own power.
When September turns to October, my hiking plans don’t vary much, but the gear I carry does morph slightly in the direction of the safety zone.
In the summer, I relax a bit about the potential of unexpected hazards. I usually only have to prepare for the afternoon thunderstorms that schedule their arrival at wherever I happen to be precisely at 3 p.m. Guess what happened when I hiked Thunder Mountain, near Kirkwood Ski area? The new nickname for Crag Lake is Sudden and Sustained Hailstorm Lake. It sits next to the No Good Tree Cover Trail. A sweater and rain jacket handled the twenty minutes of marble-sized hail but I can really do without all the drama, Mother Nature.
Here’s how I transition to cooler-weather hiking:
I wouldn’t like to endure rain or hail storms in the fall wearing shorts. A little leg protection helps for staying warm and dry. In fall, I carry rain pants and/or the zip-on legs to my convertible shorts for lightweight insulation. My summer sun hat gets traded-in for a wool cap. And one-ounce gloves go a long way to warming more than fingers some when temps dip unexpectedly.
Injuries in the third season can lead to a cascade of bad events, and so, in a self-convincingly lightweight style, I beef up a few gear items. For instance, my summertime blister care and sunscreen first aid kit gets slightly augmented with an elastic bandage. Add one extra layer of clothing; change the skin layer from silkweight to lightweight, add a two-ounce headlamp, a two-ounce foam sit-pad, an extra candy bar or two, and an important but hopefully unused three-ounce emergency bivy sack – essentially a reflective blanket that fully encloses the body and draws closed at the neck.
There is a lot of slack in what bad situations can be handled in the summer, but fall can be deceiving. The slack tightens due to less daylight, cooler temperatures, and more changeable weather. But with some slight gear changes, a worst-case scenario might not be anything more than plain old discomfort.
Days are shorter. Nights come faster. Change with the season.