Should I be out here by myself?
I was hiking with an acquaintance this winter on one of the many hiking trails near Blue Ridge, GA and they asked me, “Should I hike alone up here? Is it safe?” I couldn’t answer the question for them right away, but I did come up with an answer later that day. I came up with 3 Laws that you must obey if you want to hike alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I hike alone all of the time up here, sometimes it is not convenient for my friends and family to go out on a hike with me. Truthfully, a lot of times they don’t want to hike, like when it is 15 degrees, or there is a chance or rain, so my choice is to go out alone or not at all. I usually choose to go out alone.
3 Laws For Hiking By Yourself
1. Tell Someone Where You Are Going
Let someone know where you are going and also let them know when you get back. This one is critical! When we first moved up there from Florida, I would be running around doing errands, and I would just take off to go explore something. I generally knew where it was, and tried a lot of different roads and trails until I found what I was looking for.
I came to the realization one day, no one knows where I am, so no one knows where to start looking for me if I get hurt or have problems with my truck! Many, many times I have no cell phone signal or GPS signal for that matter (darn mountains get in the way). If no one knows where you are, where will they start looking for you?
2. Be Prepared
Please don’t just jump out of your car and take off down a trail without a little preparation! You need to take some stuff with you, especially if you are hiking alone. Here is a list of the “10 Essentials” that you should take with you when hiking, all of them may not be critical, but all of them will help you in case of an emergency.
“We make plans so we have something to change” Someone I used to work with told me this and it applies to your solo hiking adventure. Because you are alone, you are dependent upon yourself for whatever happens on the trail: the weather changes, the hike takes longer than you anticipated, you sprain an ankle, you encounter a deranged squirrel, the possibilities are endless!
3. Know what you are going to do
“I’m not a doctor, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once” probably won’t work for you when you are hiking alone. Having a first aid kit, and knowing what to do with it are two entirely separate things, I know you can’t prepare for everything that might happen when you are on your walk about, but you should have a basic understanding of first aid, how to use a map and compass, what you will do when you encounter unexpected people or animals, and how you will get yourself back out of the woods.
So what do I do now? Personal story here – we went out on our 1st overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail (myself and my 9 and 11 year old sons), staying at one of the shelters along the trail. After we finished our dinner, the boys started tying up our food in a bear bag hanging it over a branch from a tree. Sitting on the front porch of the shelter, I hear a noise and looked up and a 350 lb. bear was about 35 feet from me walking up the trail. The bear looked over at where the boys were tying up the bear bag, and in a micro-second all kind of scenarios played through my head: If the bear made a move towards the boys, would I put myself between the bear and them? If I got hurt, what would the boys do? How can I get the bear to leave? The rest of the story – the bear turned around and walked away, but came back that night and took all our food. We turned this into a great learning experience about encountering wildlife in the mountains, reading topographical maps and planning exit strategies, emergency preparedness, securing our food, and what would the boys do if I were hurt.
Do you know how to find yourself if you are lost in the woods? If you get lost, how do you expect anyone else to be able to find you? A lot of hiking alone is about self sufficiency, you being able to take care of yourself, and the ability to get yourself back out of the woods.
Some Suggestions For Hiking By Yourself
I wouldn’t say that these are Laws, just some suggestions for your solo hike:
- Hike popular trails – many trails up here are popular and usually have a lot of other hikers on them especially on the weekends. Hike these and even though you are hiking alone, there are other people around to assist you if the need arises.
- Drink plenty of fluids – be hydrated when you start your hike and take at least a full liter of water with you when you when you start your hike. You will get warm, and thirsty on your mountain hike, I would not suggest drinking out of a mountain stream unless you are going to filter the water.
- Bring layers – yes, you will get warm while you are hiking (I have been down to shorts and a tee shirt in 15 degree weather hiking), but as soon as you stop moving you will cool down, very quickly. A fleece or rainjacket will help you retain some body heat until you start moving again.
- Bring a flashlight – once the sun sets, it gets dark, very dark in the mountains. There is no ambient light on the horizon, the only light you may have is the one you bring with you. I constantly am amazed how many people that I encounter who are trying to get back to their car after dark using the flashlight app on their phone. They seem grateful when I come up on them, and are content to walk the rest of the way with me and my flashlight. You may miscalculate your hiking time to get back to your vehicle and it will be very handy!
- Take snacks – I learned this lesson the hard way. When I finish hiking, I am usually hungry. Very Hungry. It may be 30 miles back to town, and the gas station you passed on the way out may be closed.
- Have a full tank of gas – in a way this goes along with the snack comments, you can’t count of finding a open gas station way out where ever you are going, so top off before you head out of town.
I started this out with the question, “Should I out here by myself?” My answer is, “It depends.” It depends upon you, your communication with others, your preparedness, and your abilities. Start out with popular hiking trails in the mornings or mid-day, and develop your skills and confidence. Don’t head out bushwacking in the wilderness areas until you are certain that you can get yourself back out again (don’t really go bushwacking, stick to established trails).
Go Outside And Play!
I can’t promise you that I’m available to take you out hiking if you stay with us in one of our cabin rentals in Blue Ridge, GA but if you give us a call at Sundance Cabin Rentals, we may be able to put you in contact with someone who can!
Update 8/2015 – Since I posted this, there is a new tool I carry with me on my solo hikes – a Spot GPS Locator. Like everything I carry, this one is the result of an experience while hiking. I slid off of the trail!
What Happened? I was on the last day of a 3-day solo hike on the Appalachian Trail. I came around a mountain and could hear the sound of cars on the road about a mile away, so I knew my hike was almost over. I started thinking about where I wanted to eat on the way home and what I wanted to feast on and stopped paying attention to the trail. Walking through a muddy section of the trail, my feet slid out from under me and I slid off the trail and down the mountain.
I came to stop about 100′ below the trail, unhurt. My ego was bruised, but that’s all.
What I realized – I laid there for a while thinking about my situation. I came to several conclusions:
- My wife knew where I camped last night, and where she was supposed to pick me up in an hour, but there was a lot of distance between those 2 points.
- I couldn’t see the trail, so that meant that someone on the trail couldn’t see me if they were looking for me. If someone was searching for me, unless they saw where I slid off the trail, they would miss me.
- I needed to be more prepared if I wanted to continue solo hiking.
What I do now – I purchased a Spot GPS Locator and take it with me on day hikes and longer hikes. It has several types of messages that you can send while on the trail. I can send messages by text and email to designated recipients.
- Check-in – use this at beginning of hike and at identifiable locations such as landmarks or road crossings.
- Stopped for the night – When I stop and set up camp, I send out this message so my wife will know I’ve stopped hiking for the day.
- I need help – non-medical emergency. For whatever reason, I need to to pick me up or meet me here.
- SOS – need emergency help. Notifies emergency rescue and also everyone on your list.
Having this, it makes my wife relax (a little) because she knows exactly where I am, and have the ability to get help if I get hurt. My goal is to get out of the woods on my own, but this is a good “Plan B”.