5 Worst Hiking Mistakes I’ve Made

Sunrise at Cloud Cap Campground, Mount Hood, Oregon

Sunrise at Cloud Cap Campground, Mount Hood, Oregon

You’d think, having traveled across the country more than 40 times in 21 years, we’d be experts at planning and executing hikes.  While it’s true we’ve learned a lot, we still make mistakes.  Some of the examples below came from last summer.  So even those who hike a lot can get into situations they didn’t expect.

And then there are the things no one could have expected, like this cow blocking the trail to Broken Bow Arch in Utah

And then there are the things no one could have expected, like this cow blocking the trail to Broken Bow Arch in Utah

 


 

The following are 5 of my recurring hiking mistakes – things that happened so often, by design or happenstance, that I’ve learned to be 10x more careful about them.  How many can you relate to?

Climbing Whale Rock in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, under dubious skies

Climbing Whale Rock in Canyonlands National Park under dubious skies

5 Worst Hiking Mistakes I’ve Made

Driftwood south of Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Driftwood south of Third Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

#1 – Not taking lunch.  You wouldn’t believe the number of hikes we’ve taken that we wished later we’d taken lunch.  It’s become a joke, it’s happened so often.  So now, we always take lunch, whether we’re on a 2 mile jaunt or a 14 mile trek.  In fact, sometimes, we’ll bring two lunches…

Threshers at Carrizo Plain National Monument, California. We couldn't find out much about the place before we visited, then found out that it's because there's not that much there...

Threshers at Carrizo Plain National Monument, California. We couldn’t find out much about the place before we visited, then found out that it’s because there’s not that much there…

#2 – Not doing my research.  Sometimes it’s the navigator’s fault (I really should have done more research on Sully Creek before we visited and realized there was nothing there), and sometimes the directions are just wrong (like the 11 mile Horseshoe Mesa Loop that turned into 17.75 miles, or the 13 mile Cirque of Towers Overlook that was really more like 17 or 18 miles… you get the idea).  But comparing at least two sources for every trail, looking at pictures, and going off of reliable information is a good way to set proper expectations.

Views from White Rock in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. I didn't research this one well enough (not that there was much information out there), and between the length of the hike, the elevation, and lack of trail, well, let's just say it's probably one of the most difficult hikes I've done.

Views from White Rock in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. I didn’t research this one well enough (not that there was much information out there), and between the length of the hike, the elevation, and lack of trail, well, let’s just say it’s probably one of the most difficult hikes I’ve done.

#3 – Neglecting Elevation Acclimation.  Us lowlanders just can’t go straight from living at 300ft. above sea level to hiking at 14,000ft. or even 12,000ft.  It’s taken me a long time to figure out that we need to start medium-high and then work our way up in elevation…

Shooting Star flower along the Summit Trail (while we vainly searched for the Summer Blossom Trail, which actually began a couple miles further down the road), Washington

Shooting Star flower along the Summit Trail (while we vainly searched for the Summer Blossom Trail, which actually began a couple miles further down the road)

#4 – Starting at the Wrong Trailhead / Wrong Trail.  There couldn’t be two trailheads within 5 miles on a stretch of dirt road in the middle of nowhere, now could there?  Or could there be?  That actually happened at Summer Blossom near Lake Chelan in Washington – so we ended up with a 10+ mile trek through the woods (and wildflowers!) the first day on the Summit Trail, then another 10+ mile hike along the meadows of Sawtooth Ridge the next day on the Summer Blossom Trail (which was where I thought I was the first day).  Another time, the sign was missing and so we followed the trail right instead of left for 3 or 4 miles before we realized our mistake.  Know Before You Go and start in the right place – it saves a lot of frustration!

The Potash Road in Utah. Always take more water than you think you'll need into the wilderness, especially the desert!

The Potash Road in Utah. Always take more water than you think you’ll need into the wilderness, especially the desert!

#5 – Not bringing enough water.  I wish I could say I always bring plenty of water.  But it wouldn’t be true.  Behind the Rocks and the Horseshoe Mesa Loop (both of which turned out to be epically longer than we’d thought) are good examples.  Both times some people went back to the van for more water for the rest of us.  I’m learning, though, and it’s a lot easier to bring water now that we all have waist packs with double water bottle holders.

 

What is your top hiking mistake?

 

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