Numerous factors come into play if you want a safe hiking experience. Thunderstorms, lightning, a surprise snowstorm, dangerous wildlife, or maybe an unstable rock at the edge of a cliff are only some the hazards you could encounter while out on the trail. Having the proper gear, making sure that you’re in good physical condition, paying close attention to your surroundings, and using good judgment are all essential for a safe and enjoyable hiking trip.
Although not an exhaustive list, the following are a few hiking safety tips you need to consider before hitting the trail:
* On the day of your hike, check with a local park or forest ranger to obtain any updates on current trail conditions, and to see if there’s been any recent bear activity (or any other predator activity) you need to be aware of before hitting the trail.
* Check the weather forecast before heading out. Count on temperatures being cooler and expect it to be windier in the mountains than in the lower elevations of the park. Know what to do if lightning is in the area.
* Give a family member or a friend your hiking itinerary and your estimated time of return. Make sure you check in with this person upon your return. If you do not return within the expected time, have them contact the Glacier National Park office at (406) 888-7800.
* It’s best not to hike alone. Find a partner, or join a ranger-led hike.
* Keep your hiking party together by hiking only as fast as the slowest member of your group. Always take into account the ability level of everyone in your group before choosing a particular hike. If you’re hiking with children, keep them in your sight at all times.
* Always stay on the designated trail.
* Don’t hike too quickly. Pace yourself so you’ll have enough energy for the home stretch.
* Start your hike early so that you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it. This will allow you enough time to head back early so that you can finish your hike well before dark.
* Take a map and/or guide book with you. Use the map to keep track of your progress so that you know where you’re at all times.
* Learn First Aid and carry a first aid kit. Know what to do in case of an emergency. First aid training will teach you how to react and deal with specific types of injuries.
* Know where you can get medical care. Ask a Ranger if need be. Knowing where the nearest hospital or clinic is located prior to an accident could save someone’s life.
* Take plenty of water with you, especially in the summer. If you plan on drinking water from the backcountry, it must be treated for Giardia lamblia, a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.
* Liquids such as water or sports drinks are best for you. Drinking soda or alcohol while hiking will only dehydrate you.
* The best snacks for the trail are ones that will provide you with high energy, such as fruit, granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, GORP (trail mix), beef jerky, or even candy.
* Exercise caution around all snowfields. Snowfields and glaciers present serious hazards. Snow bridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers, or large hidden cavities under snowfields, and collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker. Don’t slide on snow banks. People often lose control and slide into rocks or trees. Also, early season hikers should expect to encounter snow and deep drifts in the higher elevations of the park. Snow fields can be present on many trails late into the season.
* Drowning is the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier. Hikers should use extreme caution around water. Glacier-fed streams and lakes make for frigid waters even during the hottest days.
* Hypothermia is the dangerous lowering of the body’s core temperature, and results in physical collapse and a diminished mental capacity. You can help to avoid this situation by keeping dry. Even during the summer a wet hiker can succumb to hypothermia at the higher elevations. If your clothes do get wet, change into dry ones. Try to avoid sweating in cold weather by dressing in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment. This allows you to peal off layers if you get too warm. Avoid cotton clothing. Always carry a wind-resistant jacket and rain gear, even on sunny days. As part of your first aid training you should know the signs of hypothermia and what to do if someone in your party has these signs.
* Glacier can get very hot during the summer months. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion. As part of your first aid training you should know the signs of heat exhaustion and what to do if someone in your party has any of these signs. To help avoid this situation, stay well hydrated. Always carry sunscreen and wear head protection such as a baseball cap or a wide-brimmed hat.
* Wear sunglasses during any season of the year, especially at the higher elevations.
* Wear boots that provide good ankle support.
* Always have a fire source: waterproof matches or some other emergency firestarter.
* Don’t pack too heavy. Carry only what you need.
* Carry a small flashlight or headlamp . Darkness arrives much quicker in the mountains. If you have any type of trouble on the trail, you could run the risk of having to finish your hike in the dark.
* If you get a blister or even a hot spot, you can relieve the pain and stop further damage by using moleskin. Better yet, you can help prevent blisters by keeping your feet dry, changing your socks if they get wet, and by applying Body Glide before your hike.
* Trekking poles can help make your hike a little easier by reducing strain on your legs when going up or down slopes. They also help by providing stability on wet and icy trails, and during high wind events on trails with exposure to heights.
* When crossing a stream that is more than ankle-deep, wear shoes to protect your feet and use your hiking poles or a sturdy stick for support. Also, make sure you unbuckle any straps on your pack that are connected to your body so that the pack can be easily discarded if necessary. Don’t attempt to cross a rain-swollen stream. Wait it out. The stream will likely begin to recede as soon as the rain stops.
* If you plan on hiking at high elevations during the winter (or shoulder) months, you should expect the trails to be covered with snow and ice. Use crampons or other traction devices for your boots.
* Though they may look cute and harmless, you should never approach a wild animal. Most injuries occur when people try to get too close to take photographs.
* Glacier National Park is home to roughly 300 grizzly bears, one of the largest grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. Glacier is also home to about 900 black bears as well. While seeing a bear is often the highlight of a visit to the park, proper visitor behavior in bear country is necessary. Understand some basic behavior of bears and more importantly, learn how to avoid them and what to do if you see one. The park highly recommends that you carry bear spray with you when heading into the backcountry.
* Glacier is also home to mountain lions (cougars). Although seeing one in the wild is fairly rare, hikers still need to take precautions to protect you and your children from an accidental encounter. Don’t hike alone. Make noise to avoid surprising a cougar, and keep children close to you at all times. If you do encounter a mountain lion, don’t run. Talk calmly, avert your gaze, stand tall, and back away. Unlike bears, if an attack seems imminent, act aggressively. Do not crouch and do not turn away. Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit. Mountain lions are primarily nocturnal, but they have attacked in broad daylight. They rarely prey on humans, but such behavior occasionally does occur. Children and small adults are particularly vulnerable.
* Ticks are most active in spring and early summer. Several serious diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, can be transmitted. Completely remove attached ticks and disinfect the site. If rashes or lesions form around the bite, or if unexplained symptoms occur, consult a physician.