North Carolina is truly one of the most visually beautiful states in the union. And while much of that beauty can be viewed from primary thoroughfares and country roads, even more is hidden away in our protected wilderness, free for all to see, yet not quite within reach of motorized vehicles. For those willing to get out of their cars and venture into the wilds, there is a plethora of treasures to be found.
Hiking allows people to get up close and personal with vegetation and wildlife, historic sites and geographic wonders that they would never have the opportunity to view out the window of the minivan. Waterfalls are a great example of this. While North Carolina is home to hundreds of picturesque cascades, only a handful can be viewed without at least a short hike.
Preparation is important when it comes to hiking, both in understanding your own capabilities and learning the area you wish to hike. Trails vary greatly, from wide, flat paths to rocky, uneven terrain. Start small, with 1- to 2-mile hikes, to sample various difficulty levels. This will also give newcomers the opportunity to decide what type of clothing and shoes work well for them before isolating themselves on a longer hike with the wrong shoes or constrictive clothing.
Get connected with other hikers, either online or through a hiking club, and read as much as you can about hiking in your area. It may be that a certain trail is prone to mud during the early spring rains, although it is perfect for a hike in the fall. There are a variety of great websites, state trail guides and clubs that can help point a beginner in the right direction.
WHAT TO BRING
Hiking can be something of a balancing act. While you want to be sure to have the necessary supplies on hand, nobody wants to carry more than they have to, especially on longer hikes. The most common problem that people face is lack of supplies and planning.
Experts estimate that a person should carry about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of food per day, per person. Of course, you’ll need some way of heating that food, if applicable, and the ability to safely deal with the waste the meal produces. Foil packs of tuna and chicken are popular as well as pasta meals that can be boiled over a small flame. Both are lightweight and don’t take up much room in a backpack.
Other mandatory supplies include plenty of water, first aid kit, compass, cell phone, even though service may not be available, maps, wind or rain gear, flashlight, pocket knife, matches, whistle, sunscreen, bug spray, bedding for overnight trips and medications if needed.
When planning a hike, like many activities, it’s important to tell someone at home where you are going and how long you plan on being gone. Don’t overlook emergency safety items when taking off for a short day hike. A first aid kit, flashlight, cell phone, maps and compass should always be on hand, whether you’re headed out for an hour-long stroll in the woods or taking off for a week-long adventure. In both cases, always carry more water than you anticipate needing.
Make noise while hiking. Wildlife, especially large animals, do their best to avoid contact with humans. If you are making a little noise while underway, it gives them a chance to amble off into the woods. If you do encounter a bear or wild cat, maintain a safe distance and allow the animal to move away from the area without feeling threatened. There are several brands of bear deterrent spray on the market for hikers who are exploring regions with large bear populations.
Always cook, eat and relieve yourself away from your camp or shelter. Those scents often attract animals. Likewise it is always important to store food and trash safely, either hanging in a tree or in a bear canister.
In North Carolina, snake bites are also a concern, although it is important to note that few people in the US die from snakebites. Be watchful where you step and if you do encounter a snake, stay back and let him go along his way. Do not antagonize wild animals or reptiles in any way. If a bite does occur, clean it thoroughly with soap and water and call for help at the first chance possible. Be proactive and begin moving toward the trailhead if possible instead of waiting for help to reach you.
Keep in mind that weather is an ever-changing force of nature. After even a brief rainstorm, leaves and rocks can become extremely slippery and make passage more treacherous. Small trickles and streams can quickly become raging rivers that are challenging to pass. If in doubt, do not cross. If you do, keep your boots on to help with traction and protect your feet.
Always stay together while hiking and never assume that clear water along the trail is safe for human consumption.
LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND
Be prepared to cart out everything you take into the woods, this includes food waste and other trash. Human waste can be buried in a “cat hole” about six to eight inches deep, but remember to only do so a few hundred feet away from active camps.
It’s always recommended that stoves be used for cooking, but if you do need to light a campfire, try to do so in an already established fire ring. Avoid burning trash as it emits fumes and can affect wildlife in the area.
As a good steward of the environment, it’s always nice to keep your trash bag close so you can pick up the litter left behind by less courteous hikers as well.
Most importantly, enjoy the journey. The waterfall or overlook you’re heading for is certainly worth the trip, but don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers along the way. You never know what you may stumble upon.
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