Originally published July 12, 2010.
Imagine an amazing hiking day. There’s a light breeze, but the temperature is nearly perfect. You’re whistling a little tune as you’re hiking down the trail. You have your backpack of supplies. You’re reveling in the sights, sounds and smells of nature, dawdling here at a brook, spending time setting up the perfect shot there, laying out on the rock at the peak, closing your eyes to just be for a while.
Sounds like a great day, doesn’t it?
Suddenly, in the distance, you see some angry-looking dark gray clouds. They seem to be moving toward you awfully quickly. You start down the trail, hurrying now, but sure enough, it soon starts to rain. Hard. You find some semi-shelter and wait it out, but by the time it stops the sun is going down. Suddenly, what started out as a great hike, one that was simple for you, turned harrowing, all because the weather and the time caught up with you before you realized it.
Something similar happened to my friends. If you remember, they left for their hike on the late side, were not familiar with the trail, took a couple of wrong turns, were hiking slow, and then it started getting dark — and scary — fast. Everything is different in bad weather and when the sun goes down, and all the slightly dangerous things about hiking get a lot more dangerous: animals moving under cover of the darkness, higher chance of injury because you can’t see where you’re going, the temperature drops, etc.
How to prevent against this situation? Rule Number 11:
Pay attention to the time and the weather.
Please don’t leave for a 3 hour hike 3 hours before sunset. Please check the weather forecast for where you are hiking (i.e. not your house) before you leave. Please keep an eye on the time — yes, wear a watch or have something on you that keeps track of time — and an eye on the weather. Watch for clouds, darkening skies, temperature dropping, the smell of moisture in the air.
This is not to say that, on some occasions, you can’t hike with an iffy weather forecast. Just use your head. If the forecast calls for light showers in the late afternoon and you plan to be back by noon, you just have to keep watch on the weather while you’re on the trail. If, on the other hand, you’re planning to snowshoe and there’s rumors of a blizzard, today might be the day to catch up on that novel you’ve been wanting to read.