Editor’s Note: In this monthly outdoors advice column, our newsroom mascot, Ranger Rialto, will find answers to any of your outdoors questions. Shoot us your questions either in the form below or via email@example.com and we’ll find the best experts to answer them and print their responses.
Reader questions have been edited for clarity and concision.
Hate wet hiking? Seek out tree cover
Q: I’ve lived nearly all of my life in the Pacific Northwest and, yes, detest getting wet outside. Just makes a mess and freezes my skinny self. I’d love to hear suggestions of fall hikes and multiple day trips less likely to get me wet. Cold and dry is manageable. I’ve often traveled to John Muir areas or Nevada and Utah to stay dry. I’d like to stay a little closer to home — Oregon and Washington.
A: Hi David, thank you for sharing this distinctly Pacific Northwest problem. For day hikes, picking spots with reliable tree cover is one way to avoid getting drenched. We recently ran a story on one such destination, Beaver Lake, a gentle former railroad grade with almost continuous tree cover that starts just off Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington.
Other spots protected in this way include Kirkland’s Bridle Trails State Park and Redmond Watershed Preserve; these are equestrian trails that also allow hikers and trail runners, with plenty of dry stretches. In Seattle, the Washington Park Arboretum also has a ton of tree cover, and plenty of room for social distancing.
While shared equestrian trails and city parks may not be top of mind when you think “hike,” they’re useful to have in your back pocket when the weather is a gloomy greige and you still want to go outside and play.
All about satellite beacons
Q: I’d like to suggest you share more info about satellite communication devices for hiking.
A: Thanks for this suggestion, Christy. When we addressed emergency situations in the backcountry in a previous column, we recommended calling 911 if you have cell service, but of course this is only practical in certain areas, and certainly not in the remote wilderness. That’s where a satellite communication device can be useful — and potentially lifesaving.
According to Nathan Lorance, vice president of King County Search and Rescue Association, “[s]atellite communicators or beacons are a fantastic way to communicate with friends and family while out on a hike.” They give you an easy way of calling for help in an emergency, and you “can send a reassuring ‘I’m doing great, wish you were here’ message” to loved ones.
“In our Search and Rescue missions involving these emergency beacons, the devices that allow for bidirectional communications, such as the Garmin inReach, allow emergency services to verify the details of the emergency and allow us to best send the needed resources,” he said.
You’ll also need to keep a few key things in mind for your satellite device to be effective in an emergency, said Lorance, “such as … clear visibility to the sky to facilitate the communication with the satellites” and making sure your device’s battery and service plan are both operational.
Still, he said, a communication device is one of the “10 Essentials” Search and Rescue encourages hikers to take along on every trip.
If you’re a seasoned hiker, Christy, you probably know what the others are, but they’re always worth repeating:
- Water and a way to purify it
- Extra food
- Rain gear and warm clothing
- Fire starter and matches
- Sun protection
- First-aid kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
Good luck out there!
Hiking is for everyone
Q: Can you make some recommendations for people with mobility issues? (And not too long?) My mom uses a walker and I know she would love to get out. Something in Seattle would be great. Thanks!
A: Hi, Pam. This is an excellent question. While there’s no shortage of outdoors guidebooks, most of them are targeted toward able-bodied hikers, and don’t necessarily take into consideration things like hikes that are accessible to folks who use walkers. What an oversight!
So we reached out to Syren Nagakyrie, a writer, community organizer, and creator of Disabled Hikers (@disabledhikers on Instagram), a hiking resource and website geared toward disabled hikers. Nagakyrie recommends two Olympia routes that “offer boardwalk and compact gravel surfaces and lots of benches to sit on” — Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and McLane Creek Nature Trail. If you don’t mind the drive to Olympia, these sound like a good fit for your mom.
And if you’d like to stay closer to home, Nagakyrie recommends seeking out trails with paved or compact surfaces and benches so you can easily sit down and take breaks. Thinking about your mom’s specific needs and how a trail might best accommodate them is also a good idea. You can find Puget Sound-area hikes vetted by Disabled Hikers here. Nagakyrie has also compiled a list of resources that may be helpful for any hiker with limited mobility.
A summer hiker goes year-round
Q: Hi, Rialto. I’ve really enjoyed going for hikes this summer around Washington, and it’s made this unusual year a little bit easier for my mental health. With rainy fall and winter weather on the way, what are some ways I can continue this newfound hobby after summer is over? What are trail conditions usually like in the winter?
A: Hi Peter, it’s great that you want to continue hiking through winter — how very friluftsliv of you — and while you’ll have to take a number of changes into consideration, it can be done.
Craig Romano, author of more than 25 hiking guidebooks, has some advice. First: Know that there are some geographical limits to winter hiking that aren’t an issue in summer. “Most of our backcountry and higher elevation trails will be buried in snow and inaccessible for the next six to seven months,” said Romano. “It’s important to also note that many backcountry trails also become downright dangerous to hike in the winter, too, due to avalanche danger and raging river crossings.”
Don’t despair, though. Just think local, and seek out trails at lower elevations and along the coast. Romano recommends trails in the Olympic Rain Shadow on Whidbey Island, Fidalgo Island, Vashon Island and the San Juan Islands. “The Capitol State Forest near Olympia and the Chuckanut Mountains near Bellingham are also good choices and less crowded than the Eastside’s Cougar and Tiger Mountains,” he said.
Winter hiking also requires a different kind of preparation, even on these close-in routes. Romano recommends that hikers watch out for trailside obstacles (think windblown trees, washouts, landslides) and bring rain gear, dress in layers and check weather reports ahead of time. (Trail reports from other hikers, on sites like the Washington Trails Association’s Hiking Guide, can also be helpful.)
Another factor to consider in winter? Limited daylight. “Remember … nightfall comes early,” he said. “Don’t overextend yourself and be sure to pack a headlamp.”