FOR FIRST TIME HIKERS & TRAVELERS, ADVICE FOR TRAILSIDE ETIQUETTE FROM REDLINE GUIDING
Mike Cherim, experienced guide, offers advice & answers frequently asked questions
North Conway, NH – After months of quarantine, remote work and home-schooling, travelers have been anxious to escape the confinement of the household and experience the mountain air and seemingly boundless recreation of the 770,000 acre White Mountain National Forest. The newest trend in travel to Mt Washington Valley this summer has been an abundance of first-time visitors, coming the Valley to experience all that Mother Nature offers. We expect this trend to continue as fall foliage color fills in and leaf-peepers take to the trails for the spectacular fall foliage vista the Mt Washington Valley offers.
“We welcome all those who are drawn to the beauty and choices for outdoor recreation in Mt Washington Valley,” said Janice Crawford, Executive Director of the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We simply ask that those who are new to visiting the Valley observe the rules of etiquette on and off the trails and join us in being good stewards of the White Mountain National Forest and the Mt Washington Valley. We’ve worked very hard to provide a safe and sustainable destination, and we are committed to maintaining that environment for our residents and visitors,” finished Crawford.
To help explain some of the basics of hiking decorum, we turned to Mike Cherim, Owner of Redline Guiding, offering low-key outdoor adventures and educational experiences and specializing in helping those newer to these outdoor activities who may be less sure and less confident. We caught up with Mike recently and asked him to update us on the new rules of trail etiquette and trends in the age of Covid. Here is some great advice and answers to frequently asked questions on trail etiquette from Mike.
What has changed in the last six months as people return to the trails to escape their four walls at home, and what should we know about experiencing other hikers on the trails?
“A mere six months ago the standard action on trails when encountering another hiker was to say something like “Hello,” then maybe leash your dog if they’re not already or turn down your music if it’s overly audible. Then next to also let the person ascending the mountain have the right-of-way on a narrow trail because the descending hiker has much better oversight — they’re already looking down. These actions are still a part of the ritual, but some things have certainly changed as social distancing has extended to hiking trails too. The rule of allowing the ascending person the right-of-way doesn’t change. What has to change is the amount of space given. Ever since “social distancing” became part of our vocabulary, we now seek a six-foot separation. And technically-speaking, thanks to the coronavirus’s ability to spread via aerosols, six feet is the minimum for those choosing to play it safe. If you don’t understand why, just watch the cloud that is your breath on a cold day, and you will see.”
What if there’s not room for social distancing on the trails?
“It’s easy to move aside if we are allowed space to move to get off trail, and if we want to be considerate to others (consideration – that’s another matter). But if we don’t have the space, we are then forced to push ourselves off trail. This can lead to some environmental impacts. According to the Principles of Leave No Trace (LNT), we really need to stick to “durable surfaces” when we hike and camp. So, please understand that roots and rocks are okay, but soil and plants not so much. Soil compaction begins a process that ultimately widens our trails. This is particularly important in sensitive alpine areas where recovery is next to impossible. To manage this we not only need to be aware and vigilant, we may need to really plan these passings and be willing to compromise. We ask all hikers to be as accommodating as necessary, and plan ahead. First time hikers should perhaps consider easier and wider trails to allow for safe and manageable hiking.
We’ve heard some stories about trash and other waste now being found on the trails. What’s your advice for leaving no trace?
“Some etiquette such as the Hiker’s Code for passing and Leave No Trace, or waiting for your whole party at junctions and stream crossings, should always be in place. Yet, “trail carnations” — the wads of toilet paper or tissue used by those using our trails for their bathrooms— are unsightly. In fact, they’re disgusting. Other trash articles are equally disgusting and unsanitary, and we’re finding everything from human and dog feces to condoms, feminine hygiene products, syringes (think diabetics, not junkies), and more increasingly on the trails as use increases. Remember, in the days of coronavirus, even lowly cigarette butts and food goods and wrappers may be tainted if touched by someone with the virus. Recently, we’ve started adding face masks and latex/nitrile gloves to the list of trailside trash we see. These are possible sources of viral transfer and like the other types of what we called “disgusting” trash; they should not be left behind. Nothing should be! There are a lot of conscientious hikers that willingly pick up trash and lost items left by others, but this type of trash really needs to be carried out by its producer. This means planning ahead. Bring a bag to carry out everything you carry in or that needs disposing. Anyone who says they love the mountains yet treat them in such a manner or remark how beautiful the trails are then leave their trash behind, cannot call themselves a steward of our forests and trails.”
What about parking? What should a hiker do if there’s no parking at the trailhead?
“There’s a lot more singular transportation happening because of Covid. People don’t want to share car space, so whereas a group of four hikers might have traveled together last summer, now they bring up to four cars to begin their hikes. This, along with the addition of more people seeking outdoor recreation has resulted in a parking problem at the trailheads. It’s not uncommon for trailside parking to be full by 7:00am and spill out onto the highway. If you really want to park trailside, plan to arrive early to snag a parking spot, and remember to pay the parking fee required at White Mountain National Forest parking lots. If the parking is full, find another location. You don’t want to return after a great day on the trails to find your car ticketed or worse yet, towed.”
What should we do about those who don’t observe the rules in the new age of Covid?
“Sadly, not everyone is polite or considerate and you can’t make them be if they’re not. Some will laugh at your concerns for social distancing or wearing masks. If consideration is absent, you have no choice but to live with this and take one-sided action to protect yourself. Do your best to keep your distance, cover your face, sanitize and steer clear of arguments with those whose minds you can not change. Move on, enjoy the forest and trails. While the saying goes “the mountains spare most fools” inconsiderate and unprepared hikers may make it out without following the rules, but the good guy always finishes first.”
The Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce strongly urges travelers to wear masks, practice social distancing and please be considerate of others while enjoying the beauty of the Mt Washington Valley this summer and fall. For more information on visiting Mt Washington Valley, go to www.MtWashingtonvalley.org where you’ll find complete guidance on Covid-19 restrictions too. For more information on the new “mind your manners” campaign Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce has launched, click here.
To plan a summer or fall trip to New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.org.
Photo: Mike Cherim of Redline Guiding. Credit: Mike Maciel.