Article originally posted by: Washington Trails Association (www.wta.org), photo by Erynn Allen.
Autumn is a fine time to get into the mountains. The back-country is bursting with fall color, crowds have thinned to a trickle, and the bugs are all but gone.
But like any type of recreation, hiking carries certain risks, and your safety is best ensured with preparation and caution. Besides vibrant fall color, autumn in the mountains brings shorter days, colder nights and quickly-changing weather. These volatile conditions can make even a simple day hike more risky than your average summer excursion. When hiking in the fall, pack some extra caution into your backpack.
Carefully choose your hike destination, and take the time to check trail conditions and weather forecasts before you head out. Let someone know where you will be and when you plan to return. Bring warm clothes, and be prepared for any weather. And pack the back-country essentials that could save your life should you get lost or injured.
Tips for Safe Back-country Hiking in Autumn
Check the latest trail conditions. Many trails will have new snow, and our snow level will continue to drop as autumn goes on. And always call ahead to local ranger stations for conditions.
Let someone know where you are going. Use this simple form to share your hike itinerary, and call your contact when you return. If your destination changes, be sure and let your contact know.
Always pack the 10 Essentials on any hike. These include: a topographic map and a compass (and the knowledge of how to use them), extra food, extra clothing, a fire-starter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit, and flashlight. In unpredictable weather, it’s also a good idea to bring some sort of emergency shelter, even on a day hike. Hiking poles or ice axes can be helpful on stretches of unexpected icy or snow-covered patches. Remember, cell phones don't always get reception and batteries can fade quickly in cold weather. They are not a substitute for carrying the back-country essentials that could save your life.
Watch weather forecasts. In fall, weather can turn cold and rainy or snowy in an instant. If you encounter foul weather or treacherous conditions, it's a good idea to leave the hike for another day when you can return with proper snow traveling equipment, and a competent awareness of avalanche danger. The website National Weather Service's Mountain Forecast is a good source for information if you are hiking in the US. NWAC is also an excellent source for current avalanche conditions.
Share the trail with hunters. Autumn is hunting season, and each year hunters come out to pursue elk, deer, and other game. Read our tips for staying safe around hunters.