Hiking: Play it Safe on the Trails with Sally Grimes

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

By Sally Grimes
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Are you heading to a national or state park for your family vacation? Join Sally Grimes of the American Hiking Society to discuss summer hiking and outdoors safety tips.

Event Date: 05/31/2000.

The opinions expressed by Ms. Grimes are hers and hers alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to the Women's Health Place on WebMD Live. Our guest this afternoon is Sally Grimes, the director of communications at the American Hiking Society and a certified Leave No Trace trainer.

Welcome to the program, Ms. Grimes. Thanks for joining us. It's a pleasure having you here. Before we begin taking questions, can you please tell everyone a little bit about your background and area of expertise?

Grimes: Thank you for inviting me. I've been an employee of American Hiking Society for five years. Having worked in virtually every department, I've been involved in the legislative, membership, marketing and communications. I've also taken Leave No Trace training, led trail maintenance crews, and led many hikes with my nieces and nephews.

Moderator: What does Leave No Trace training consist of?

Grimes: Leave No Trace (LNT) training teaches wilderness ethics. They aren't rules to live by, but basic ethics that simply make sense when you're in the backcountry. Examples include leaving an area as it looked when you arrived (or more "natural"), not disturbing wildlife, etc.

Moderator: Can you tell us about the American Hiking Society?

Grimes: American Hiking Society (AHS) is a 25-year-old recreation-based conservation organization. We're the only national nonprofit working for hikers and speaking for hikers in regards to federal legislative issues. Our mission is to establish, protect, and maintain foot trails in America, and we do this through federal legislative work, Volunteer Vacations trail maintenance crews, National Trails Day (this Saturday, June 3), National Trails Endowment grants, and many other programs.

Moderator: If someone wanted to volunteer for the American Hiking Society how could they go about that and what type of activities would they be doing?

Grimes: The simplest way to find more information is through the AHS website, www.americanhiking.org.  Here you can search the Hiker's Information Center, a comprehensive listing of thousands of volunteer opportunities on public lands, everything from one day crews (like this Saturday) to two-week backcountry trips to year-long campground host positions.

Moderator: Before we talk about this Saturday's event, what type of efforts are currently going on to urge Congress to support full federal funding for trails?

Grimes: We recently testified before the Interior Appropriations Committee in April. We directly lobbied the House and Senate -- the members of those committees. We joined together with 10 other outdoor non-motorized recreation groups and put together a proposed budget which we presented to Congress. We recently trained over 50 trail advocates from around the country on how to lobby at their state or local level. On our website is a prewritten letter that a visitor can send to their member of Congress urging them to support full federal funding for trails.

Moderator: What has been the federal response?

Grimes: It's been very positive We recently received a $500,000 increase to the River to Trails Coalition program and other  programs within the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, plus we had some recent successes with the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Moderator: How important is it to speak out and communicate the importance of the need for trail protection and expansion?

Grimes: It's imperative. The more people our congressional members and representatives hear from, the more likely we are to have trails to hike in the future. If they don't think the public wants trails, there eventually won't be any trails and vice versa, the more they think the public wants trails, the more trails we'll have.

Moderator: What do you say to those who are vacillating on whether or not to get involved, thinking that they can't make a difference?

Grimes: I'd point out that until very recently, few members of Congress knew about issues surrounding the importance and benefits of trails. Because of the work of American Hiking and because Congresspeople and our representatives heard from their constituents, we now have a House Trails Caucus that helps us with legislative issues. There would be no House Trails Caucus if the members didn't think trails are important to their constituents.

Moderator: What type of clothing and gear should someone buy if they are the beginner / intermediate / advanced level hiker?

Grimes: For somebody who is just starting out on the trail, there is no need to break the bank when purchasing gear. Start with a sturdy pair of shoes or boots, make sure you take lots of water, and hike a well-marked trail in a popular destination. Always take a few essentials: Map, compass, water, extra food, rain gear, fire starter, first-aid kit, knife, flashlight, and sun protection. Never wear cotton, especially in colder weather. Once somebody has been hiking for a while and is ready for a longer trek,  they should start investing in decent gear. Go to an outdoor retailer and be fitted with a pack, boots, and sleeping bag. Also a decent tent. For the advanced hiker, there are so many high-quality products to choose from that a lot of research is necessary, and different gear works better with different people.

Moderator: How can a hiker best prepare to go on a long hike and how important is preparation?

Grimes: Preparation is the key to a good hike. Know your limits. Hiking is not competitive and it should be relaxing, so don't try to take on a hike you aren't ready for. Always take the 10 essentials already mentioned (even on a short hike). If you're going on an overnighter, plan out your route before you hit the trail, estimating where you'll camp and knowing that you'll either camp near water (and you take a purifier) or you'll have enough water with you. There are great guide books available for just about any destination. It's important to read these and understand the area you're getting into. Know if you might see bears, and know what to do in case you do see one. Know the area you're in, because in some places it might be 80 degrees or more during the day but below freezing at night, so you'll want cold-weather gear even though it feels like summer when you leave.

Moderator: Is it important to let someone know you are going out on a hike and where you are going? What about taking a cell phone?

Grimes: It is important to leave your route with somebody, and let them know when you'll be home. Set up a time when you'll call them, and a predetermined time of when they should start to worry if they haven't heard from you. As far as a cell phone, that's a touchy subject. While it can't be denied that cell phones have gotten many people out of dangerous/lost situations, there are also many hikers who feel the ringing of a cell phone in the backcountry ruins their experience. If you leave prepared and take the essentials with you, mapping out your route ahead of time, you shouldn't need a cell phone.

Moderator: What type of dangers should someone be aware of that can unexpectedly happen while hiking?

Grimes: Weather changes are a common danger to be aware of. Even if the weather is perfect when you leave from the trailhead, it may be stormy and lightening within a few hours. Always take rain gear and warm clothes, and be prepared for the weather to turn on you. Also, injuries such as slipping on a rock are relatively common. Be prepared with a first aid kit, and it's good to have first aid training. Getting lost or separated is a danger. Know your route, know how to use a map and compass (don't just take it with you, but know how to use it), and know what you're going to do if you get separated from your group (i.e., know who will stay in their place and who will try to find the missing person).

Moderator: What does poison ivy or poison oak look like? How often do hikers come across it?

Grimes: It's hard to describe them without a visual. I would recommend once again finding out what types of poison plants to be aware of for the area you're hiking into, and learn what to look for.  For the most part, if you stay on the trail and don't cut switchbacks or go off-trail, you won't get poison oak or ivy. Most people get it when they step off-trail to explore or decide to cut a switchback.

Moderator: If someone hiking ends up lost off the trail, what are some key tips to remember or to do?

Grimes: It depends on whether or not they are alone. If alone, pull out the map and compass. If they can't figure out even the general vicinity they are in, at least with a map and compass they'll know which way is north, south, et cetera, thereby knowing which direction the next road or town is in. If they are with another person, plan ahead of time and decide if one person will stay put while the other looks for them. It's a good idea to have a noisemaker of some sort, like a bear bell or whistle, that you can use when you are lost, whether or not you are with another person. Then maybe a stranger would hear you making noise. Whatever you do, if you get lost, don't panic. Ration your food and water, just in case, and stay calm.

Moderator: Can you tell us about the National Trails Day that's coming up this weekend?

Grimes: National Trails Day is now in its eighth year. Every first Saturday of June, millions of people get outside to celebrate the trails in their towns and the backcountry. We're expecting nearly 3000 events throughout the country on Saturday, each one with a different twist. Some are work trips (trail maintenance). Some are festivals with displays, singing and dancing. Some are ribbon-cutting ceremonies, some are trail dedications, and some are simply hikes, bike rides or walks. American Hiking Society (AHS) coordinates National Trails Day on a national level, with support from partners Altrec.com, Backpacker Magazine, DuPont Cordura, Thorlos, Vasque, REI camp gear store, Galyan's and EMS (Emergency Medical Services), plus federal agency partners Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Forest Service and Department of Transportations, plus nonprofit partner Trust for Public Land. The local events are organized by trail clubs, federal, state or local government agencies, or trail volunteers. It's truly a joint effort, and it's the partnerships that make it such a powerful program. Visit the AHS website, www.americanhiking.org and search for an event near you by clicking on your state.

Moderator: Are there good places to hike no matter what state you live in? Where is a good place to find out in your area what trails are available?

Grimes: Also by visiting the Hiker's Information Center on the AHS site, you can search for trail clubs (we have a database of 135 clubs throughout the country), and descriptions of trails by state. Every state has awesome places to hike, many of them hidden away -- which makes them even better!

Moderator: What do you enjoy most about hiking?

Grimes: I enjoy the feeling of solitude and the escape from the phone, emails, fax and my computer. There's no feeling like working hard all day to complete a hike, then watching the sun set over a mountain and across the meadow. It returns you to the core of what's inside -- for me it's a spiritual experience as well as physical.

Moderator: We are almost out of time. Before we say goodbye, is there anything you would like to add?

Grimes: Hiking doesn't have to be a long difficult trip. It can be as simple as a stroll in a city park. I'd encourage everybody to get outside at least one hour per week and enjoy the natural world on foot. Thank you for your time. Happy trails!

Moderator: Thank you so much, Ms. Grimes, for being our guest speaker. It was a pleasure having you here. We've learned a lot. Thanks again. Have a wonderful day.

Grimes: Thank you.

Moderator: Thanks and good night

The opinions expressed by Ms. Grimes are hers and hers alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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