Saturday 23 July 2011

Day 112: How (not) to plan a day hike

 The end of the road in the Tetons.  This is where we had to turn back...

I believe in planning, and right now we're experimenting with officially planning our days. So yesterday, we set off to do a 13 mile hike to Lake Solitude in the Grand Tetons but just failed to reach our goal due to lack of planning. Ooops!  Here's all the things we should have done. I could imagine they're obvious to everyone else, but just in case.
  1. Figure out how long the hike will take, then pad this with the amount of time you want to spend eating lunch, taking photos or dipping your feet in rivers.  Actually, we did fine on this bit.  The hike was supposed to take 8 hours and it would have done.  Trouble is, we didn't have 8 hours.  Here's why:
  2. Figure out how long it will take to get to the trailhead (and back again).  Don't just guess, use Google Maps or something similar.  Actually what went wrong yesterday is that Mike thought the hike was on our side of the Tetons so when I told him it would take more than an hour to get to the trailhead he treated that information, shall we say, lightly.  I knew where the trailhead was but I didn't know that he didn't know!  Not only did we set off late, but we ended up doing a few unplanned errands on the way.  Being an hour late made the difference between reaching and not reaching the lake.
  3. Figure out any time constraints.  Yesterday we were using a shuttle boat which returned from the trailhead for the last time at 7pm.  That was a pretty absolute constraint that forced us to turn back before the end of the hike.  Even that put us back at the house later than I'm really comfortable with but I lived with it.  Time constraints can also occur in the middle of a hike.  For example, if we're climbing a mountain, I find it important for digestive and motivational reasons not to eat lunch before the top (especially for a child), but then again, having lunch at 4pm doesn't work either.
  4. Figure out your leaving time (and expected return time). With all this information, it's easy to figure out what time you need to leave the house, so how could we be late?  Of course, when some people are not ready on time it goes down like a truckload of rotten potatoes with other people who gave up desirable activities the day before/got up early/worked late so they could make the leaving time.  So here is another important planning rule:
  5. Get all your stuff ready in good time.  There is quite a lot of personal leeway here.  If you want to get up at 3am to make pasta salad, launder your hiking socks and pop down to the all night gas station to buy essential trail snacks, nobody can tell you not to.  They can tell you you need to be at the agreed start time and place, no excuses (bar genuine emergencies).  Similarly, if you intend to hike in a tee-shirt even if there's a blizzard, that's up to you. You're just responsible for not forgetting to bring things that are very likely to be needed and compromising everyone else's day, let alone safety, because of it.  So here's the last rule.  OK, so nobody in our house has gone to quite such extremes, so the above is literary license.
  6. Know about local conditions. One thing we've researched around here is bear awareness.   We're just not used to having to deal with large mammals other than humans.  We are used to mountains, but yesterday we ended up hiking about a mile over more old snow pack than we would expect at this time of year in the Alps.  We weren't really equipped for that, although all the other conditions were so nice, it was no problem really. Antonia even had a spare pair of shoes with her (because her Dad insists she shouldn't hike in sandals, but she intends to do so anyway). But I do know of a lot of situations where lack of local awareness has killed people, so it's not really to be taken lightly.

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