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Tips for a safe hiking trip this spring

Seen from Mount Washington, low cloud begins to drift over Wildcat Mountain. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Seen from Mount Washington, low cloud begins to drift over Wildcat Mountain. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The warm spring weather has been drawing more people to popular outdoor destinations around New England. But hikers in the White Mountains might be caught off guard and realize they're not adequately prepared for the lingering snow waiting for them at higher elevations in mid-April.

How far north or south you go in New England makes a difference in what kind of hiking conditions you'll face, said Chris Thayer, a spokesperson for the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

"Beautiful weather across the region can be a tricky thing where, you know, down in the southern part of New England, it might be absolutely gorgeous and everything," he said. "And it's gorgeous up here in northern New England, but I was still skiing this past weekend."

Thayer offers tips for how to stay safe when hiking in the spring, and other information helpful year round.

Hydrate — and don't forget the sunscreen

Along with water, sunscreen is essential when the weather is warm. Thayer said the sun is strongest above the tree line and mountain views. In the spring, there's even less shade in those already sun-drenched places because of the lack of leaves on the trees.

You can find the Appalachian Mountain Club's "10 Essentials" packing list here.

Avoid river crossings

While you may encounter snow at higher elevations, it is melting. That melt feeds into rivers, and while it may be a beautiful sight, the water levels may be higher and the current rougher than is typically safe for crossing. Even with a bridge, these conditions increase your chances of getting wet, which could result in hypothermia. Thayer recommends you save trails with river crossing for the summer and fall.

Wear footwear with good traction

The snow melt is also creating soggy and muddy trails, so Thayer said it's best to don waterproof shoes and even microspikes, which are like tire snow chains for your shoes. And if you're like him and you're still encountering snow at high altitudes, you'll want snowshoes.

Off-the-beaten path and Plan B trails

This is a more general hiking tip but one worth reiterating because of the large crowds you'll likely meet at the trail heads this spring: have an alternate route or two in mind before you head out.

There are lots of reasons you may need to go with your Plan B or C. Maybe a trailhead is already be full by the time you get there, or you couldn't find parking (which is a common occurrence).

Thayer expects most people know about the iconic hikes in the White Mountains like the Presidential Range, the Franconia Ridge, Old Bridle Path and Franconia Notch. But he said there are others worth visiting.

He recommends consulting a guide book about less-traveled paths that still boast a great woods walk and view.

Know when to turn around and when to slow down

"If you've gotten a late start or you've bitten off more than you can chew, the mountain and woods walk will be there for another day," Thayer said.

If you're hiking with others, it's good to stick together, even if that means slowing down: "Wait at trail junctions, wait for that slowest hiker. Better to be together as a group than to be strung across a trail and someone taking a wrong turn or turning around and the rest of the group isn't made aware," Thayer said.

Whatever your contingency plans are, be sure to relay those to the group. Things may not go as planned, but discussing possible deviations before heading out better ensures everyone is safe.

Amy Sokolow Associate Producer, All Things Considered & Weekend Edition
Amy Sokolow is an associate producer for All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.


Vanessa Ochavillo Associate Producer
Vanessa Ochavillo is an associate producer for WBUR focused on digital news.



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