I would consider myself a self-taught hiker. I’ve always loved being outside and taking my dogs on long walks, but I hadn’t really ever been on a true hike. None of my friends or family were into hiking, but for whatever reason, during the summer of 2017, I decided I should try it out. I don’t remember exactly what sparked this idea in my head. It could have been that I had summers off because I worked for a school district and had contracted time off and wanted something to do.
Wanting a buddy, I texted my twin sister to see if she was down (she also had a school district job with summers off). She said yes, so I did a little bit of research. I mean MINIMAL. I decided we would hike the Staircase Rapids Trail and I would bring my pups, Blanche and Barnaby. Thanks to my lack of research, after an hour and a half of driving, we pulled up to the ranger station to find out we needed a National Park Pass, and dogs were not allowed. The park ranger was kind enough to point us in the direction of a few other nearby trailheads that dogs were allowed and did not require a pass (or so we thought. I found out after the fact that we did end up needing a Northwest Forest Pass, but thankfully we did not get a ticket).
We ended up at the Dry Creek Trailhead and we started our endeavor. It was HOT and we both planned poorly. If I remember correctly, I brought one water bottle for myself and my two dogs, and my sister had to carry it because I didn’t have a backpack…and we brought no snacks.
I remember thinking the trail was SO hard. It felt like we were just going up, up, up in 90-degree heat with barely any views. Of course, we still had a hoot enjoying each other’s company, laughing and complaining, all the while me worrying about my dogs overheating. We finally called it quits after not getting to any kind of satisfying destination, turned around, and huffed and puffed back to my car. Me, also being unprepared, wore my at least 10-year-old Teva sandals and took a stab from a sharp stick to the bottom of my arch. My bloody foot kept sticky to my sandal every step as I wobbled with two dogs on leash for the last mile. What a train wreck.
BUT, even after that mess of unpreparedness, I loved it. We drove to a nice pull-off overlooking Lake Cushman and ate the sandwiches we packed in the car and enjoyed the views from ground level. We stopped at a Safeway on the way home so I could get some bandaids for my foot which ended up taking a few weeks to heal.
Writing this blog entry, I looked up the Dry Creek Trail and I estimated we hiked MAYBE 4 miles round trip and gained around 500 ft in elevation. For perspective, my go-to trail I hike at least once a month is 5.5 miles round trip and has a 1,400 ft elevation gain. Reflecting on this hike, it felt like 10 miles and at least 3,000 ft elevation gain. Boy have I grown!
So, don’t be like me. Before you take your first hike there are 3 things you should do at a minimum.
Take some time to read about different hikes and see what suits you. Find out the distance, elevation gain, if you need a pass, and the weather for that day. There are so many great websites and apps for finding trails. Living in Washington state, my favorite website/app is Washington Trails Association. Before every hike, I put in a good amount of research to make sure I am fully prepared. I also screenshot descriptions of the trails and maps in case I get lost and do not have access to the internet. Take time to read the recent trip reports from other hikers which will give you a good idea of road and trail conditions. Each hike is different, and where I go, what I wear, what I pack, and how much time I schedule, depends on my research.
2. Wear and bring appropriate gear and clothing
You do not need to have the nicest hiking gear and clothing to enjoy a hike, but what you wear and bring is crucial. Dependent on the hike, what I wear for pants can vary so much. I might wear shorts if it is going to be extremely hot, thin ‘warm weather’ leggings for a warm day, thick, micro-fleece lined leggings for a cold day, or even snow pants layered over my leggings for a snow hike. Find out more about my favorite pieces of gear and tips and tricks to save on your gear collection.
3. Bring water and snacks
Even if you are going for a quick jaunt, always bring water and at least some sort of snack. You never know when hunger might hit like a ton a of bricks or you take longer than you thought on your hike and are dying for a drink of water. Even when I’m hiking my go-to, close to home hike that I’ve done countless times, I carry my small backpack with a bottle of water and a snack (usually jerky or trail mix). I may not eat or drink anything, but it’s there if I need it. On longer hikes, one of my favorite parts is planning for a hardy trail meal.
Even though my first hiking trip wasn’t the best, something about it got me fired up. I’ve learned so much over the past few years since I started hiking on a regular basis. If you have any kind of itch to try it out, just go for it!