Know Your Limits

"Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another."
- John Muir

The title of this page says it all. This is time to be honest with yourself and the rest of your group (you should be in a group…remember, don’t travel alone!).

Evaluate your age, fitness, and outdoor experience. Assess if you have the capability not only to complete a proposed hike or backpacking trip, but also to enjoy the trip. Look critically at those in the rest of the group.

No one has fun if a hike feels like a suicide march. Even worse, mistakes may be made and injuries can occur when participants are stretched to their limits or beyond.

Evaluate your personal and group limitations when planning the hike, and when on the hike.

When Planning the Hike

Be realistic with trail selection. Have your group’s capabilities in mind when discussing your options with the Ranger Station or Park Office. Rely on their recommendations.

Rainy Weather Strikes Lake Wenatchee

Weather can quickly get cold and wet in the mountains!

When on the Hike

Okay, so you’ve made the trip selection and you’re finally there. The trail’s good, the weather’s good, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Is that all there is to it? The answer is no. You must continually assess conditions periodically throughout the trip.

Things change, and it’s up to you to find out what has, and what the safety implications are.

Changing Conditions

  • Have weather conditions gone from good to bad? Does it affect your group’s safety? Is your group prepared for the weather?
  • Is anyone complaining about not feeling well, having physical issues (joint soreness, blisters, ill-fitting shoes, etc.), or having trouble keeping up with the group?
  • Is the trail much harder than was anticipated? Are planned stops (lunch for example) postponed or ignored because it’s taking longer than expected, and you feel compelled to hurry things in order to reach your destination?
  • Is someone in the group lacking proper equipment or clothing that’s required for the trip?
  • Do things just “not feel right”?

An affirmative answer to any of the above, at any time on the hike, requires a decision. The safest (and recommended) decision is to turn around and go back to the starting point.

Come back another time, or look at taking a different, easier trail next time.

Remember, the experience wasn’t a total waste. Use the hike as a lesson that guides you towards choosing a better trail the next time out.