An Ode to David Letterman’s Top 10

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I suppose everyone has some pet peeves on the trail, and I am no exception.  Some days I truly wish they (the hiking Gods) would post general hiking rules (like the “beware of bears” signs) at every trail head. I think it would be very enlightening to the once-a-year hikers (or a helpful reminder to us all!).  While going over the entire unofficial handbook of hiking would be very boring, I decided to present the worst offending rules, in my opinion, as Katrina’s Top 10…

1).  The Passing Lane – Let’s just say, I’ve encountered a slow hiker or two in my time.  I have no problem with slow hikers; I am one from time to time, but there is also something to be said about sharing the trail.  Most hikers don’t like having someone unfamiliar hiking directly behind them and have the courtesy of breaking off to the right to let faster hikers pass (I ALWAYS say thank you, amazing how far those two words get you).  Have you ever hiked for a period of time (seemingly hours, but truly only minutes) while the hikers in front of you refuse to pull to the side of the trail to let you by?  I know, not a unique situation.  In most cases, I’ve been able to navigate around to the left (just like passing while in a car!) and continue hiking.  Other times, I feel like I could be knitting a scarf while taking on a set of switchbacks.  It’s a flat out battle of wills at that point…

2).  The Right of Way – Hikers going down should yield to those coming up the hill.  A lot of times a trail is wide enough for uphill and downhill traffic to function simultaneously (Mt. Si, Rattlesnake, Duckabush, etc.).  In fact, there are many hikes that fall into that category, and there are many more that do not (Mailbox Peak, 4thof July, Mt. Defiance, etc.).  It makes sense too, if you break it down into the basic concept of inertia.  It takes more energy for a hiker going uphill to stop, let a hiker pass coming down the hill, and start back uphill again then the reverse.  In fact, going downhill USUALLY takes less energy.  Therefore, give the huffing uphill hiker a break!  Granted, sometimes I use the excuse of a downhill hiker passing me to give my lungs and heart time to get back into synch again!!

3).  Chatty Kat – Yes, I live in the city known for a “Seattle Freeze.”  Often we don’t even know our neighbors, much less wish them a “Good Morning!”  One of the many things that I love about hiking is that people are SO friendly!  The same people that you see on the streets of Seattle everyday suddenly become very talkative!  Seriously, I could go on and on about the many great people that I’ve met out on the trail.  In fact, some of the people that I have met on the trail I actually hang out with or at least have garnered some advice.  So, it always spooks me a bit when I come across the mute hiker.  It’s like a Hitchcock movie, kinda eerie.

4).  Every Dog Has His Day – I am a certifiable dog lover!  I love meeting dogs on the trails; my dog loves mountains (or maybe it’s just the ability to get truly dirty?).  Of course, there are some areas where dogs aren’t allowed (National Parks for one).  Generally, there is a reason for that (largely, wildlife!).  There are a lot of trails where dogs can go, thankfully!!  However, there should be some common sense to it too, a fleeting sense nowadays.  All dog owners know their dogs’ behavior.  Some dogs do great off leash (I’m not advocating, just observing!!); some don’t. Some dogs are incredibly friendly and great to meet on the trails; some are not (I can remember a very angry little bichon frise on Mt. Si that had just about had enough but failed to communicate it appropriately to her owners).  My word of advice, if you know your dogs’ behavior is questionable or aggressive, maybe leave him at home or take a route less taken?  I’ve seen a dog pull a woman (her human mom to boot!) off a trail and down an embankment (true story at Little Si).  I’ve also seem two dogs attack each other on a trail.  Neither of these situations was really a fun situation, and, while no one was hurt, it puts a damper on the day.  Last, bring a blue bag AND remember to take it with you when you leave (this is considered littering even if that was not the intent).  Alternatively, you can bury it too.  That being said, I can’t wait to meet your pups on the trail!!

5).  Litterbugs – You pack it in, then you pack it out.  This seems obvious, but…  I know sometimes it happens by accident (I lost a Green Trails map on the top of Mt. Teneriffe not so long ago in case anyone comes across it); however, it seems there are some people that truly don’t care.  As often is the case, the conscientious should take a moment or two to pick up what they find along the trail, even if just a piece or two (every bit counts!).  I usually do a bit of trail maintenance on my hikes too (I’m not talking any big project, but I will knock off large branches off the trail instead of just stepping over them).  AND, if you really have some time, WTA is always looking for volunteers!  I did learn recently that you get a free day NW Forest Pass (worth $5) for every day you volunteer with WTA.  AND, if you collect two, you can mail them in for a free annual NW Forest Pass (worth $30).

6).  A Baker’s Dozen – I have often hiked with large groups; however, there is actually a set of rules to group sizes.  In most cases, a trailhead will note how large a group can be.  Generally, it is up to 12 persons, though I have seen eight as well.  If you have a group that is larger, it’s not a problem.  But, the group should be broken into smaller groups and spaced 30 minutes apart.  I too have fallen culprit to breaking this rule a time or two (I remember camping up at Marmot Lake with 14 people and sweating the fact that the rangers knew how many there were of us, were we going to get a ticket?  Okay, I wasn’t really sweating, but the thought crossed my mind).   There are two camps on this thought.  First, it limits the impact on the trails (I’m not sure I completely understand that rationale as breaking a group into two versus one is still the same amount of physical impact).  Second, it is being kind to other hikers.  It is a bit difficult for hikers to pass large groups.  It is also very loud to encounter a large group.  And, it is very hard to keep track of everyone in a large group (and their well being).  I know that it can be fun to run around the mountains like a pack of goats, but it may not be fun for everyone on the mountain.  Just sayin’…

7).  “Get Smart” – Know your limits mentally, physically, and experientially.  It is dangerous for everyone if a hiker doesn’t recognize boundaries (I do NOT need 15 minutes of fame on Oprah because I crossed an avalanche chute that I had no business crossing).  I think we all have read the articles and seen the news clips of our fallen comrades.  If you had a heavy night of drinking, maybe Mt. Rainier isn’t where you need to be going the next day.  If you just finished a significant session with your personal trainer, maybe Mt. Adams isn’t the brightest idea.  If you’ve never hiked in the snow and don’t know how to use a compass, maybe a jaunt in the Cascades isn’t where you need to be in February.  There are many, many more examples, but I think you catch my drift.  Use common sense…

8).  Lost and Found – I often wonder where all my lost items go on the mountains (Is there a well-dressed mountain man up there?).  I see other people’s lost items littering the trails, but it is strangely never my own.  I usually see these items like Christmas ornaments, hanging on trees or draped over rocks.  I have a suggestion.  It’s definitely not a rule, but it makes good sense.  If an item is found while you are headed up the trail, leave it like an ornament per usual.  If an item is found while heading down the trail, take it to the trailhead.  Alas, I lost a pair of sunglasses (again!!!) on the way to Tomyhoi Peak this August.  Lost to the hiking Gods (or fashionable hermit), I suppose.  Though I do feel a bit of guilt over leaving my carbon footprint.

9). The Bathroom Pass – There are many rules to using the bathroom on the mountains.  First, find out if it is mandatory to pack it out.  Yep, I mean blue bagging it just like you do with your dogs.  Mt. Rainier is one such mountain (unless you are at the privies).  If it’s not, make sure you have a trowel, as it is never acceptable to leave it without burying it (at least six to eight inches please).  Second, never use the bathroom near a water source.  While we can’t dictate what animals do, this would be a very good argument for carrying a water filter of some sort (though this is part of your 10 essentials).  Third, toilet paper is wonderful, but it too needs to be packed out unless it’s one of the new biodegradable versions (though this is still debatable in my mind).  Last, pee on rocks.  This is probably the one that needs the most explanation.  A lot of animals are salt deprived in the mountains.  Urine is full of salt.  For any of us that have been followed around by goats (I can’t count how many goats have invaded my personal space when I just needed a private moment), this goes without saying.  The animals will tear at the ground for every last drop, literally.

10).  Setting Up House – Of course, everyone would love to camp on lush vegetation versus rock or hard ground, but bring a sleeping pad instead!  Camping on vegetation should be avoided at all costs.  And, respect the fire rings.  If there is already one built, use it.  As Smokey the Bear would say, “only you can prevent forest fires.”  Make SURE the campfire is out before you break camp.    I truly want these mountains to be around for the future generations!!

Truly, these peeves boil down to two threads…common sense and respecting your fellow hikers and environment.  Common sense is something that we all have to stop and reflect on from time to time.  Respect is just a golden rule; life is so much more enjoyable with it!  Now get out there! Happy Hiking!!

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