Not surprisingly, some of North Carolina’s more popular state parks filled to capacity again this weekend. Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, South Mountains, Raven Rock, Stone Mountain, Occoneechee, part of Eno River all had to shut down at one point because they had reached capacity.
After one of the most gorgeous and prolonged springs in memory, a spring that couldn’t be better suited to being on the trail, the heat is finally arriving this weekend. We couldn’t be happier.
A near-perfect spring coupled with the coronavirus has has driven an unprecedented number of hikers to the trail. But, with the coming heat and humidity, coupled with more retail outlets slowly opening, we should see far fewer hikers on the trail this weekend.
Tuesday at lunch I headed to a favorite local wild area for a two-mile hike. Five minutes in and I was a glow: my eyes stung with sweat, my shirt stuck to me, I’d even collected a cobweb or two. Ah, the return of hot weather hiking.
I love a good hike in the heat. In large part that’s because not everyone else does. Head out on a day when the temperature’s in the upper 80s, as it was Tuesday, and there’s a good chance you won’t see another soul on the trail. But the summer forest is a whole other world: it’s teaming with life, yet it’s oddly quiet. It’s the best time of year to find a secluded spot and plant yourself for 15 minutes and quietly observe the world around you.
Today, we focus on the former. Specifically, on the sometimes traumatizing prospect of hiking a trail with creek crossings. Creek crossings that don’t have bridges, and sometimes don’t even have a decent rock-hop crossing.
A stream with no bridge or obvious rock-hop crossing can be intimidating to the unprepared hiker. Just the thought of getting your feet wet and continuing on in soggy boots seems capable of raising blisters. Fortunately, most rivers can be easily forded. Here’s how:
=&0=&. If you know you will be dealing with multiple crossings in a short span, slip into a water shoe. Keens (or anything that’s similarly constructed) are ideal, with their closed toe and firm fit. Old running shoes also work, though they don’t dry as quickly. If it’s just a crossing or two, walking across in hiking socks (preferably wool) provides a bit of protection to your feet and improves grip.
=&1=& Your balance crossing water is greatly improved if you have trekking poles or a hiking stick: three or four points of contact beats two. Probe with your poles/stick, plant firmly, take a step. If you don’t have poles or a stick, you can often find one leaning against a tree or rock at the crossing.
=&2=&Don’t be hasty, it’s a several step process:
=&0=&. Evening is good. So is early morning: Hit the trail at 7 a.m., be done by 11 and you can get in a decent hike before the temperature gets much above 80.
=&1=&. One concession you might make is the length of your hikes. If you love a good 10-miler in winter, maybe a 5- to 7-mile hike is more appropriate in hot weather.
=&2=&. Select trails with high canopies: leaf cover can trim about 10 degrees from the heat. Also look for trails with minimal understory to allow better access to whatever breeze may be available.
=&3=&. Trails that are wide, preferably double track, provide superior air flow. And on early morning hikes, you’ll be less likely to Swiffer up a raft of spider webs.
=&4=&. Especially at lower elevations, hike along water. If you start to heat up, shed the hiking shoes and wade in, and splash a little over your head and neck.
=&5=&. In summer, cotton can be your friend (for the very reason it is your enemy in winter): Cotton absorbs sweat and keeps it close to your skin; on hot days, this works as a personal air conditioning system
=&6=& Of course you’re carrying water; make sure your water is cold. If you use a hydration pack, fill the bladder with ice, then water. If you use bottles: the night before, fill them 3/4 full and put them in the freezer, then top off before heading out. If you’re going for 5 miles or more, take an electrolyte drink (or water stir-in) to replenish your body with vital minerals including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
=&7=&. Stop, drop, and rest if you have any of these symptoms: you sweat more than usual, you have muscle pain or spasms, you feel nauseous or dizzy or get a headache, or have any of the heat-released illness symptoms you’ll find listed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention link below. Take further action as noted at the CDC site.
=&8=&. Things that fly and bite and spread rashes are a few of our least favorite things about summer hiking. But if you plan ahead and prepare, you can make them a little less pesky. See our handy link below.
=&9=&. Hike in the mountains! They’re cool in more ways than one. We have several trips planned this summer. Come join us:
Our cool summer hikes
Here’s where we’ll be keeping our cool on the trail this summer:
South Mountains State Park