Opinion: Why it's not time to lace up your hiking boots just yet

Jun 29 2017, 6:18 pm

Hiking season is already in full swing, or is it?

After all the weather is balmy and the vast majority of Vancouver’s trailheads are now snow free. But the recent heat wave has brought with it a false sense of safety, and it’s easy to forget that it’s not summer in the mountains just yet.

In my experience on the trails I think that many people are failing to realize just how snowy the trails still are just a few kilometres from the start.

Popular hikes such as Garibaldi Lake, St. Marks Summit, and Mount Seymour’s First Peak are still buried under lots of fluffy white stuff. In fact “Christmas in July” couldn’t be a better sentiment to describe the current conditions.

Local snow lovers may be ecstatic, but from the looks of it, most hiking Vancouverites are unsure what they’re getting themselves into.

On a recent trip to Panorama Ridge for example, I saw a man hiking with jeans and MacGyvered garbage bag gators—hardly the most appropriate gear should anything go wrong.

And with the trails buried in a few feet of snow things like route finding, water sources, and increased risks of falls become serious threats.

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It’s time to play it safe

It’s always important to be prepared when stepping out onto the trails in BC, but that’s especially true in the current conditions.

Make sure you know the trail

Unless you know your way around a trail in the summer, attempting the route in winter conditions is not a smart move. With the trail masked by a layer of snow and people before you taking wrong turns, many of the more popular North Shore routes are very easy to get lost on right now.

Bring plenty of water

It’s hot out there, and the reflection of the snow only makes things worse. Bring plenty of water with you to make sure you don’t run the risk of dehydration.

Also be warned: Since the streams are still under the snow, it may be difficult to fill up your bottles, and you run the risk of falling in at the same time. Of course, you can always eat the snow, but be extra cautious not to eat anything covered in red algae. Red algae is a laxative and can easily ruin your hiking day.

Mind your footing

The last thing to be aware of is the increased risk of injury right now. In soft snow, it’s common to have one leg sink unexpectedly. Knowing how to walk in the snow is key –  you have to push your heel in and keep your weight back.

The shock on people’s faces when they fall is unmistakable. It’s funny until you realize they’ve twisted their ankle. Just last week I witnessed a mountaineer fall and slide down about 200 metres, even with an ice axe it was hard for him to self-arrest. Most people don’t bring ice axes let alone have the knowledge of how to stop themselves should they take an unexpected tumble. Had it been just an average hiker he may not have been able to walk away so easily.

Are you prepared?

For the time being, it may be best to either keep off the trails for a few more weeks or stick to lower elevation hikes. Current snow free trails include Joffre lakes, Evan’s Peak, the Chief, and Norvan Falls.

Stay safe out there! And remember, the mountains will still be calling once the snow has cleared.