How to not die while hiking
As a cub scout I learned to always “Be prepared!”
When we set off to go hiking yesterday with our friends Jane and Ritchie, I’m pretty sure that some people thought the four of us quite foolish. At the very least, it’s almost guaranteed that the three guys huddled under the shelter at the trailhead felt that way, as they watched us set off up the trail in the pouring rain. The fact is though, we’re not crazy, and we don’t take hikes like this lightly. That seems not to be the case with everyone though, as I’ll share a bit later on in this post.
You think we’d let a little torrential downpour keep us from this fun? Never!
Yes, the forecast called for rain (we had checked it), and I will admit that as we drove towards the trailhead in the torrential downpour, the four of us joked about going to find a nice bistro to hang out in instead of hiking. Even on the best of days though, we find that it often rains in the jungle, or up above the clouds in the mountains, so we weren’t going to let some showers phase us. We also each had waterproof jackets, water and food with us, and were wearing proper footwear. In other words, we were prepared.
The rocks on the steep path were definitely slippery, and water streamed down the trail like a small river. That may have been enough to cause some folks to turn back, but we carried on in good spirits. Our perseverance was rewarded because within 30 minutes of commencing the hike, the downpour lessened to just a bit of drizzle.
One of several “refuges” on the trail.
Without a doubt, this hike is a tough one, with multiple steep ascents and descents. It is beautiful though. I imagine that the view from the top could be amazing, but this time around, just as on our previous trip up, the mountain chose to keep that view hidden from us. The sky remained completely shrouded in clouds until our final descent to the carpark, but in spite of that, we enjoyed the day, thankful for the cooler temperatures, and the amazingly lush scenery.
At the top! I bet the view up here would be amazing were we not in the clouds.
We weren’t the only crazy hikers on the trail either. As we neared the top, we passed five other hikers who had obviously gotten an earlier start than us, making their way back down. We came upon a few other people on our descent too, and this is where the not dying part comes in.
We shaved 50 minutes off our previous time.
Trip Advisor lists Mt. Pelée as the number 19 “thing to do” in Martinique. Anyone who took the time to read the comments on that page would see that there are sufficient warnings to take the trip seriously. It stuns me that people could find their way to the trailhead, and begin a hike of this magnitude, without having any idea about its difficulty. It happens though.
If you read the account of our last trip up Mt. Pelée, you may recall me sharing the conversation we had with a woman not far from the trailhead, asking me if it was much further to the top. Perhaps only minutes after we relayed that story to our climbing companions, almost the exact same thing happened to us again!
As we were working our way down the steep and slippery steps, we came across a lone man slowly making his way upward. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked us if it was much further. Somewhat shocked, I said, “Yes, it is!” “At least an hour and a half,” I told him. He shared that he had just left his wife because she didn’t want to continue, and sure enough, we found her standing on the trail, just a little ways further on. I’m not sure what was crazier… the fact that the guy left his wife on the trail to continue on alone, or that he was wearing what looked to be a cotton T-shirt, and flip flops! Not only would he have been better off walking barefoot, if he didn’t have a jacket with him in his little daypack, he was almost certainly going to die of hypothermia once he got up into the clouds (it was cool, wet and seriously windy up there)!
Stay with your hiking buddy, especially if it’s your wife!
I’m pretty sure that after we left this fellow, he did the smart thing and returned to his wife. We never saw him again, but did pass a couple of other ill-equipped fellows who were presumably just taking a little walk up to snap some pics. Perhaps, if I search, I’ll see their images on Instagram!
Mike’s tips on how to not die while hiking:
- Research the trail you intend to take, making sure that you are up to its length and difficulty.
- Wear proper footwear. Flip flops or slides are almost never acceptable.
- If rain is in the forecast, or if you’ll be in the rainforest (duh!), or climbing to any elevation, bring a waterproof jacket/shell.
- Bring sufficient water, and perhaps snacks.
- Bring a small first aid kit.
- If possible, bring some method of communication. At the bare minimum, tell someone where you are going, and when you plan to be back. And definitely check back in with that person when you complete the hike.
The dirty details.