View Full Version : Hiker Advice - What Would You Do?

06-21-2011, 08:36 AM
I know that this topic has been discussed many times here before but after my experience last weekend I have to bring it up again. I know that there is no right answer to this question but I'm interested in hearing others opinions.

We stayed at Lakes of the Clouds last Friday and Saturday night (trip report coming soon). Over the weekend I had several occasions where I was talking to hikers who were seemingly less than prepared (some much more than others). Here are a couple of the more extreme examples.

Saturday evening at around 4:30 three guys carrying full backpacking gear came into the hut. They had hiked up from Crawford Notch (not sure where they camped the night before). At that point there were strong thunderstorms in the forecast during the next couple of hours - the radar map showed several storms currently over the eastern Vermont border. I was chatting with the guys and asked where they were headed. They said "over Washington and to Jefferson". Tonight? Yes. I asked if they knew that there were storms in the forecast. They didn't. I commented that I sure wouldn't want to be on the ridge during a thunderstorm. They asked "what do you do if you're on the ridge in a storm?" Hmmm. I just said that the general advice is to get off however you can - by a trail if there is one and down into the trees or scrub by some other means if there isn't. The conversation ended there and about a half hour later I saw them heading out from the hut toward Mt Washington. The storms thankfully never materialized. I assume that they were at least prepared for hiking in the dark. What would you have told them?

On Sunday morning the summit conditions on Mt Washington were 30F and 65MPH winds for a wind chill of 10. Forecast was for temps to reach the low to mid 40s with winds still above 50 all day. As we headed down the Jewell trail we met numerous people heading up in typical summer garb. Short, t-shirt, sneakers, small pack. We said hello to each group as we passed and a couple of times I just commented "hope you've got your warm layers with you - it's pretty chilly up there". Some asked how cold it was and I told them the forecast. None seemed very concerned (although some seemed pretty surprised by the temps). Finally when we were about a mile and a half from the parking lot at 12:15 we ran into a father and daughter (probably in her mid 20s) heading up. We said hello and she said "can you tell me if this trail goes to the hut". Not directly I said, and then gave her the series of connections to get there. I thought that perhaps they were staying at the hut that night. "Is the hut on the way to Mt Washington?" she asks. Not really, it's kind of on the other side. If you'd gone up the Ammo trail it would be on the way. "Oh, maybe we'll stop there afterward then". Dad then says (happily) "this is our first hike up Mt Washington today". Probably the way they decided to spend Father's Day together. I could have said so many things. Do you have a map? (Presumably not). Do you know how long this is going to take? Are you prepared to hike down in the dark? Do you know how cold and windy it is up there (not 70 degrees like down here)? I didn't say any of those things. Instead I said "enjoy your hike and be safe". I've wondered about them about a hundred times since then. I really hope that their Father's Day adventure ended well. What would you have done?

Snow Miser
06-21-2011, 10:56 AM
Mark, I feel you probably did the right thing in both cases. You let the guys know about the potential storms coming, but they were going regardless. The only way they would have stayed is if they were told to by a park ranger or the like. And for the father / daughter hikers, they probably turned around at some point as they felt the cold and wind increasing. It's just nice of you to give some advice, as hikers who know these mountains very well. :)

06-21-2011, 11:59 AM
Hello, I would like to chime in. Typically if someone asks me how the trail is ahead, I will let them know and give as many details as I can about whats ahead. If they don't ask, I will usually say hi, enjoy your hike, and pass on, assuming they have put just as much planning in as I have.

It's difficult to understand what others might be thinking sometimes, but, in my opinion, anyone should not have to do any more than what you did to make them aware of the potential dangers for that day. Most importantly, we have to watch for our own safety. I think if I was on the Presidentials or exposed peaks as you were, I'd would probably be just as assertive as you were to help others out if I thought some seemed unprepared.

06-22-2011, 08:22 PM
Mark, I think you did the right thing also. I think at some point people need to take responsibility for themselves.. Do their own homework. If you're asked for advice on the trail, it sounds like you're always happy to provide it, but you are not responsible for other folks that may not be prepared. Look at me for instance, I've done my homework -- reading the posts on this forum prior to going on the hike -- trying to be sure I'm not getting in over my head. I guess at some point you just have to do it or you'll never know, but I've learned a lot from your posts and others on here about what I should bring, what the conditions could be like and what to do if the weather turns on us. If people are going up unprepared then we'll hope they are smart enough to turn around. And the guys you saw up on the trail seemed well prepared -- sometimes folks just make bad decisions. I don't think you could have said anything more to change their minds.

At any rate, what I'm trying to say is that it's terrific that there are great folks on the trails willing to direct people and offer advice, but in the end, we're all responsible for our own safety.

I'm hoping to hike up on Tuesday -- weather permitting. Can't wait! Hopefully I won't need any advice on the trail, but if I do, I hope to see one of you up there! :-)


06-23-2011, 09:30 PM
Mark you can only tell people what they want to hear .we try to tell people how to be safe with our search and rescue but they have cell phones and dont need any thing else . the only time i will sure they listen is if young kids are involved
people will learn the hard way some times

06-24-2011, 09:45 AM
In July 2006, I hiked from the gravel parking lot that's a few hundred yards down from the Observatory to Jefferson & back. The weather was mostly clear with some white clouds with light winds at 15 to 20 mph when I left, but T storms were predicted for late in the day. I packed warm layers, gloves, rain gear, etc.. When I first arrived at Jefferson you could still see the Observatory, but soon high clouds rolled in and obscured the MW summit. I headed back toward MW with one eye on the sky to keep track of the incoming weather. When I was about a half mile from my car the weather was really starting to look threatening. I picked up my pace because I wanted to be back to my car before the weather really turned. Then with about a quarter mile or so, I passed a group with at least a dozen people in it headed toward Mt. Clay. They were clad in sweatshirts & shorts, with not one person carrying a pack. I said hello as I passed, but nothing more. As I look back, I think I was temporarily dumbfounded by what I was seeing. It didn't make any sense to me. Why were they walking right into the oncoming rain storm? By the time I thought I was about 100 or so yards from my car, visibility seemed like it was somewhere around 50 to 75 feet. I could still catch a glimpse of the Observatory at times, but at trail level it was getting hard to follow the path & keep a sense of direction. I headed for the auto road hoping that if I came out a little way off from where I parked, I could at least figure out whether I needed to go up or down the road to return to my car. Luckily, I ended up right at my car just as it stared to downpour. By the time I took off my pack & jacket & threw them in the car, it was like a monsoon. The winds picked up to 55 mph+ and the temp gauge in my card dropped 20 degrees in less than 5 minutes. As I sat in my car being bounced around by the wind and watched it downpour, I couldn't believe that the group of people I had just passed were out in the weather totally unprepared. After watching that, I'm surprised there aren't more accidents & higher fatality numbers than there already are. Since that day I've encountered a few hikers that were also not prepared & simply warned them to act on the safe side vs getting caught out in the weather. Even the point that Charlie makes about the cell phone is something that I don't understand. They have radar apps, but it doesn't seem like people actually use that technology to prepare or make a decision before a problem arises.

06-24-2011, 04:29 PM
Interesting hearing everyone's perspective on this.

Charlie - I agree with you about only being able to tell people what they want to hear. The question is how much to offer when you see someone that is obviously not prepared and probably doesn't know what they are getting into if they don't ask. Some of those people may be very willing to listen to advice and happy that they got it.

whitemtnvisitor - I think you're saying kind of what I did above. You didn't say anything to that group heading for Mt Clay because they didn't ask. They might not have listened but I have to say that in that situation I think the right thing to do is say something. That's a situation where people are clearly in imminent danger (not just a potential problem based on how other things happen to go).

I've thought about that father/daughter about 50 times since Sunday. I'm hoping everything went fine (and it probably did). Next time though I'll at least offer the advice and shut up as soon as they say they aren't interested. I'd hope that someone would do the same for me if I was getting ready to get into something I didn't understand...

06-24-2011, 04:38 PM
I have mixed feelings on this.

For those heading up with small packs, etc. -- I say leave them be, unless they ask for advice. The exception is if you know they're walking into an incoming storm, then give the information politely and move on. For those heading out above treeline unprepared/right before an incoming storm, I'd definitely mention the weather/conditions/storm in a polite and deferential way...then I'd leave it at that (unless they ask questions). Anything more might cause resentment and if you press the matter, the person might keep walking from feelings of defense. So -- inform, but quickly, politely, and without judgment. Then be on your way.

I can't tell you how many times I've been the recipient of "How far are YOU going?" "You're not taking them up THERE, are you?" "It's windy up there, hope you have hats for those girls!" etc. -- Many times, the tones are authoritative and loud, and it comes across as condescending and rude. It even ticks off the girls. I feel that anyone who looks at the size of my pack and sees what kind of clothing we're wearing should understand that I have a clue.

I never, ever mind a polite statement regarding the weather/windy conditions/wet conditions of a trail. I always appreciate information given in a respectful and speedy manner. It's the grilling I don't like -- and I don't respond well to it.

I don't see you as the type to speak to anyone in a rude way, and I'm not suggesting you did; I'm just answering the general question. So, to sum up, I'd suggest looking at what the person is wearing and carrying, and then, perhaps, saying something in the kindest and most humble way possible. I don't think anyone can go wrong with that approach.

06-24-2011, 04:45 PM
Well said Trish - I couldn't agree more. The "not pushing" is the critical thing. If they don't want it, don't give it. There is of course always the risk that someone carrying a bottle of water on their belt and nothing else is a very strong, experienced hiker that's been out there a zillion times and knows what they are doing. Definitely no way to really judge for sure. I hope my polite comments aren't misconstrued by them if ever it happens.

06-24-2011, 04:52 PM
Mark, I think it's a case of "it doesn't matter what you say, it's how you say it." :)