I love going on Instagram and seeing all the really cool places that the people I follow are going to and all the really cool adventures they are taking and to be honest, I’m like a little kid in an ice cream parlor (I know the saying is candy store, but anyone who knows me knows that ice cream is my thing).  I see all these amazing mountains and trails and I can’t wait to strap on my boots and experience these places myself.  But then that little voice creeps in … “how do you know you can do it … do you have the skills?”  Now anyone who knows me, knows I won’t quit … I may doubt myself, I may be a little slow, and I’ve been known to cry on the trail on occasions … but one thing is for certain, once I start, I’m seeing it through to the end.

So how do you know what you can handle and what you can’t?  The answer, I believe, comes down to proper planning/research and making an honest assessment of your abilities.

Your abilities: 

If you have been hiking, you should be able to make an assessment about your skills and ability:

  • How many miles can you reasonably handle before you are either physically or mentally spent
  • How quickly do you move up hill and down hill (it is important to differentiate the two as this will help you to truly understand your pre-start turn-around time)
    • Whenever we go hiking, we establish a hard stop-time based upon our expected speed and the trail conditions.  This is the time that we will turn around, regardless of where we are on the trail, in order to be safe.  If you are fast on the decent, your turnaround time can be a little later, and if you are slow on the decent, you may want to set your turnaround time earlier.  Remember, your turn-around time should be fluid, based upon how well your moving on the trail that particular day
  • What class levels have you previous hiked and what is the class of the hike you are taking on
    • The class of a route looks at the difficulty of the route and ranges from class 1 to 5. 
      • Class one is a well defined trail without a high level of rocks or obstacles on the trail
      • Class two is a little more difficult, but you can do the trail without a high level of use of your hands
      • Class three involves rock scrambling and is much more physical and precarious then the first two classes
      • Class four includes a high degree of scrambling, and often includes being in high exposed areas.  You may want to consider some level of protection (helmet, rope, slings) or working with an experienced hiker or guide when you get to class four, as it often includes some technical components
      • Class five is technical climbing that requires full gear (rope, helmet, harness, protection, etc.).  Class five is something you shouldn’t take on without previous climbing experience and a partner that knows what they are doing (you both need to know how to belay).
  • What elevations have you climbed at before.  Elevation can have major impact on your ability.  As you get higher, the oxygen levels in the air decrease making your body more sluggish … thus slowing you down.  If you have never done higher altitude, you want to ease into it to see what your body is capable and how it reacts to the lower oxygen levels.  Somebody I hike with can’t go above 12,000 feet.  Once they get that high, they start to wheeze, they get headaches, and find it very difficult to breath.  Unfortunately, there is no really way to know how your body will react until you actually get out there and experience it.  If you plan on doing a tall mountain, take the time to acclimatize and chose one that is relatively easy and short so that you can easily get off it if you are adversely impacted by the altitude.

Planning/Research:  There are many places you can go to get beta on a particular route your planning to take. My personal favorites are:

  • Instagram – I like reach out to fellow hikers and ask questions about the trail, the conditions, how long it took them, what their experience is, and where the tricky parts of the trail are.
  • All Trails – I map out the trail I am taking, look at the elevation gain, get a sense for how long it took other people to do, read their comments, etc.
  • Google – I google the mountain and trails to gain an understanding of the trail conditions, the dangers that may exist on the trails, what class the trail is, what options do I have to bail on the hike should the conditions be bad, etc.  The more research I do, the more prepared I am and the higher my rate of success will be on the trail.  It also greatly improves the safety level of the hike.

I find that the more research I do, the more prepared I am for the hike.  I also always check the weather and sunrise and sunset times so I know what to expect from a conditions perspective and I can also determine how much light I have should I have to start or end in the dark.  I always want to make sure I understand where the more technical parts of a trail are so that I can make sure that I am handling them in the light.  In addition, for safety reasons, we tend to move slower in the dark, so you need to account for that if you are planning an Alpine start (starting in the dark) or you are anticipating getting off the mountain after sunset.  It’s also important to understand weather conditions in the areas that your hiking/climbing.  For instance, during Colorado summers in the high peak area there are often thunderstorms after noon.  You want to shoot to be off the summit by noon to avoid the exposure that thunderstorms bring.

Getting out there and having adventures is awesome, but we need to make sure we do it safely by honestly assessing what we can do and doing our homework to understand the trails so we can be safe.  This is important, because I’m really looking forward to your next Instagram post so I can add more places to my to do list. Don’t forget to #cerinicroute!