How to Select a Hike
Selecting an appropriate hike can be confusing and frustrating for fledgling hikers, but there are opportunities for anyone to advance their skills while enjoying a few hours or a day on the trail. Some important factors to consider when making your choice include your level of fitness, available gear, and comfort zone. To get started, purchase a walking/hiking guide and map for your area of choice – cautious internet research can also provide some valuable insight. For many, a great place to begin is city pathways.
Important characteristics of a hike include distance, elevation gain, and elapsed time. Select an appropriate hike and plan for a great experience by considering: how many daylight hours are there? How long will it take to get to the trailhead? What is the length of the hike?
Suppose the return length of the hike is 8 km on a good, flat trail. An average walking speed is 5 km/hr, but when carrying a pack on flat terrain, 3 km/hr is a more conservative estimate. Allow time along the trail to take photos and to relax at the destination to enjoy the ambience and your creative lunch. Your estimate for an adventure along the popular Heart Creek trail, for example, would be an hour for the drive to the trailhead, one and a half hours for the 4 km to your destination, a half hour for lunch, one and a half hours hiking back to the trailhead, and another hour to drive home. This makes your total time five and a half hours, which can of course vary by individual. Assuming you would like to have lunch around noon, a good start time is 9:30 am, with a finish time of 3 pm.
To assemble your gear for a simple day hike, include some quality hiking footwear, properly adjusted hiking poles, and contingency layers of clothing in a backpack. Your daypack should contain the vital emergency supplies of first aid kit, toiletry kit, food and beverage. Tie your boots properly and look forward to practising the Sherpa Step on downhill segments of this easy hike in the Bow Valley Corridor west of Calgary. Before tackling this first hike, learn your wilderness fundamentals in the series of introductory blog posts at hikingwithbarry.com. And finally, select two close friends as hiking partners.
However, the following example is too often true: everything is ready to go the night before the hike. You get up early to prepare the turkey before placing it in the oven and setting the timer. Two hours before you are scheduled to leave for your hike, another close friend, a more experienced hiker, calls to tell you he recently completed an easy hike to the summit of Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country. He tells you it is a sensational experience. After several minutes of this friend raving about the fantastic views, you decide your first hike will be to the summit of Moose Mountain. No planning is necessary because a friend would never lead you astray … right?
You abandon your plan to hike the short, easy, and entry-level hike along Heart Creek and convince your inexperienced hiking partners to join you on the highly recommended and longer, but more exciting, hike to the summit of Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country.
You know you must start earlier to be home by 5 pm to remove the turkey from the oven. The early morning drive from Calgary into Kananaskis Country is joyous, bordering on euphoric. Skies are clear and the temperature is perfect for hiking. The drive from Calgary to the unsigned parking area for Moose Mountain takes a half hour more than expected but parking is plentiful just inside the gate. Oddly, the cars parked there have empty bicycle racks. No worries. You begin the walk up the road where there are occasional scenic views along the way. After a dusty and relentless uphill trek, you arrive three hours later at another, more crowded parking area and the trailhead.
In spite of forgetting the hiking guide and map, you begin the undulating-elevation hike through lush forest to the tree line. Hiking the top of Moose Mountain Ridge provides spectacular views and soon you begin the relentless climb to the summit over many switchbacks. Everyone is getting very tired but you are determined to achieve this. Your wheezing friends have ceased conversation. At the top, another mountain looms ahead. Passing hikers confirm the summit of Moose Mountain is “up there.” You are tough, stubborn, and energized by the beautiful scenery and all the profanity you have ever learned in addition to new creative material. This will be done!
Following a brief rest at the top and a quick lunch sitting on the helipad beneath the fire lookout, you rush to make the descent.The sun seems low in the sky. Ten hours after leaving Calgary, you are back at the Moose Mountain trailhead on exhausted legs. Nearly all the cars are gone. A friendly family takes mercy on you and shuttles you down to the parking area at the gate where your car remains alone. Driving home to Calgary in the dark, you phone a neighbour and ask them to remove your cremated turkey from the oven.
Upon your release from the hospital, you make a firm resolution to never hike again as long as you live and put all your gear up for sale on Kijiji. Your neophyte hiking companions, and formerly close friends, never speak to you again.
Lesson: Stick to the plan and nurture your growth gradually with a sense of purpose. Believe me, I have made mistakes hiking outside the boundaries of my capability. Our family motto is, “Too stubborn to quit; too stupid to fall down.” Have respect for the environment and understand your capability to comfortably function within it. It is unquestionably worth the effort.
Over YEARS, gradually increase your distance and elevation as your skill set improves. Attempting to ramp this up rapidly can be counterproductive, even dangerous and irresponsible. As you gain skill, knowledge, and experience, your enjoyment of hiking will increase exponentially.
By Barry Taylor