Hiking Alone


(This 1099th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 15, 2012.)


Last year at this time I wrote a column extolling the virtues of hiking alone. I pointed out the opportunities to enjoy scenery, observe wildlife and think great thoughts.


In recommending solitary hikes I suggested that you meet your own schedule and set your own pace. On many of my own hikes in the past, that meant doubling back to where I left my car, but seeing scenery from the opposite direction also has its appeal. Today, moreover, many trail societies offer assistance: you can have a car spotter pick you up from where you park and deposit you at a trail point from which you walk back to your car.


I must add caveats to that recommendation about solitary hiking, however. Hiking alone carries responsibilities to yourself and to society. You must be aware of two possible problems: you may get lost and you may injure yourself. In each of those cases you will often need help.


Those caveats should have been mentioned in that earlier column and I hope that no one accepted my suggestion, set out on a solo walk and ran into difficulty.


I have experienced both problems. I have been lost many times but you will laugh when you hear that I once even lost my bearings on the trails in the Tillman Preserve in Clarence. I finally found my way out to a road and proceeded to walk in the wrong direction until I came to an identifiable intersection and turned back.


My only injury, although minor, was more threatening. Hiking alone several miles from a trailhead in the Adirondack Mountains, I came upon a wildflower I could not identify. Not carrying a flower guide, I decided to cut a frond from the plant to carry out. I took out my pocketknife and in trying to slice through the stem I instead cut deeply into my index finger. The skin flapped open and blood spurted from the wound.


I managed to press the skin back into place with my thumb to stop the blood flow. I then wriggled out of my backpack, got out my med kit and bound up the wound. Although it continued to throb, it posed no further difficulties and I completed my hike.


How can you avoid those problems? You probably cannot. A GPS device may locate you to avoid the first, but you will often find it of little use in dense woods. A compass and a good map are of equal or greater value.


While carrying a first aid kit is very important, it certainly doesn't suffice. A fall resulting in an ankle sprain or break could immobilize you. Today I would not venture off-road without a cell phone, but it too has limitations. Hiking areas are often in exactly those regions that do not have cell phone reception.


For those reasons anyone who plans to hike alone has a basic responsibility: notify someone about your exact itinerary including not only where you are going but when they should expect to hear from you when you finish your hike.


Hiking in a responsibly led group takes care of those problems. Then you have others to intercede for you. And again this year a series of such hikes is planned by the Foothills Trail Club (FLT) along the Conservation Trail that runs from Niagara Falls all the way to the Pennsylvania border in Allegany State Park. FTC members gained access permission from landowners and built and maintain the 177-mile trail.


This year's hikes will cover the 78 miles of the southern section of that trail. The hikes will begin in May and, if you wish to participate, you must sign up immediately. The application deadline is May 1. Download the form from www.foothillstrailclub.org/50th anniversary.html or contact Annette Brzezicki at anet42brz@roadrunner.com or 685-2183 for information.


When you sign up you can indicate your commitment or ability level: Fast (3.5-4 miles per hour); Medium-Fast (3-3.5 miles per hour); Medium (2.5-3 miles per hour); Medium-Slow (2-2.5 miles per hour); Nature Appreciative (2 miles per hour or less).


Whether you join this group challenge or hike on your own, you will find the Conservation Trail one of our finest local attractions.-- Gerry Rising