The longest journey begins with a single step.
Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
Springtime in the Green Mountains
Spring in the Green Mountains can be like winter; deep snows can still be found at high elevations, even when there's no snow in the valleys below. Risk of hypothermia is an issue year-round, especially if you do not have warm, waterproof clothing. Do not be lulled into a sense of false security when you start your hike out on a bright sunny warm day. Higher elevations may still have several feet of snow making travel impossible without snowshoes, and temperatures are always colder. Waterproof boots and gaiters are a good idea until the snow has melted.
Here are some other hazards you may encounter in spring.
- Water crossings: In spring and after heavy rains, streams can change from trickles to torrents, making crossings difficult. If you decide to ford a stream, be extremely careful. Keeping your boots on will give you better footing and prevent your feet from going numb from the cold water. Unbuckle your pack's waistbelt before starting. Use common sense and, if in doubt, don't cross.
- Bugs: Black fly season usually runs from late spring to early summer. A good insect repellent will help keep the worst of the biters away, but during the worst periods a head net may be your best protection.
- Mud: When the winter snowpack melts and spring rain showers arrive soils become saturated with water which can cause muddy trail conditions, particularly at higher elevations where the soils are shallow and poorly drained. Some trails on State land at higher elevations are closed until Memorial Day.
Lyme disease has been reported in Vermont. A good insect repellent will help repel ticks, and the threat of disease can be minimized by quick removal of any attached ticks. A daily inspection is a good habit.
Here are some other ways to avoid ticks:
- Use insect repellent with 20% - 30% DEET on adult skin and clothing to prevent tick bites.
- Permethrin is another type of repellent. It can be purchased at outdoor equipment stores that carry camping or hunting gear. Permethrin kills ticks on contact! One application to pants, socks, and shoes typically stays effective through several washings. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin. For details on permethrin visit the National Pesticide Information Center.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks to keep ticks off your skin. Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help keep ticks on the outside of clothing. If you’ll be outside for an extended period of time, tape the area where your pants and socks meet to prevent ticks from crawling under your clothes.
- To find out more about ticks and Lyme disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site.
Summer is the most popular time for hiking in the Green Mountains.
In summer, you may encounter extremes in temperatures from winter-like cold to high heat and humidity, along with rapid changes in the weather. You may associate hypothermia only with winter; however in the mountains hypothermia can be an issue year-round. That is why it's important to have warm, waterproof clothing with you no matter what it's like when you start your hike.
Summer's heat can create problems for hikers, including:
- Heat exhaustion, which will leave you feeling tired, nauseous, dizzy, and headachy. Rest, rehydration and a good night's sleep are the treatment for heat exhaustion.
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness. Symptoms include confusion, delirium and loss of consciousness. The skin feels hot as the body's cooling mechanism fails. THIS IS A TRUE EMERGENCY. Cooling the patient immediately is essential.
- Asthma and other respiratory conditions may be triggered by heat. Have all appropriate medications.
Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be prevented by avoiding overexertion on hot days. Pace yourself, rest often and drink plenty of water throughout your hike. You'll know that you've drunk enough water if your urine is "clear as mountain spring water."
Perhaps the most common, and serious condition in the summertime is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid. This can happen when you stop drinking water or lose large amounts of fluid through sweating and the exertion of hiking. Not drinking enough fluids can cause muscle cramps. You may feel faint. Usually your body can reabsorb fluid from your blood and other body tissues. But by the time you become severely dehydrated, you no longer have enough fluid in your body to get blood to your organs, and you may go into shock, which is a life-threatening condition. Make sure you bring plenty of water on your hike.
Crisp fall days and glorious colors make fall a popular time for hiking.
However, if you're hiking in fall, remember:
- The days are shorter and darkness comes early in the forest and mountains, especially in fall. Plan your hike so you're at hike's end before dark. Always carry a flashlight or headlamp, even if you don’t plan on being out after nightfall. Always prepare for the unexpected. Many search and rescue missions could have been avoided had hikers simply had lights with them.
- During fall many trails become blanketed with a mat of leaves. Newly fallen leaves can, in effect, camouflage a hiking trail and make navigation more difficult. If in doubt, backtrack to the last known trail location or marker and take a closer look.
- Temperatures during the fall months can change dramatically during the course of a day. When the sun drops over the horizon, temperatures drop very quickly. Always be prepared with warm clothing.
- Sub-freezing temperatures are common at higher elevations starting in October. Traction devices for your boots may be necessary to safely navigate wet/icy trails. If you encounter an icy section of trail it may be best to turn around as conditions are likely to get worse as you move up to higher elevations. It is also typically far more difficult to descend steep icy trails than it is to go up.
- Fall is also hunting season so be sure to wear bright colors - blaze orange is preferred. Hunting season can run from early September through December.
- Carry extra warm clothing, as you may experience winter conditions, including snow and high winds. Remember: in the Green Mountains, hypothermia can be an issue year-round.
Winter hiking and climbing take special preparation.
You must be prepared for extremes of cold, wind, snow and even rain and thaws. Skis or snowshoes are almost always needed. Even if there isn't much snow at the start of your trip, sudden storms can quickly appear and the amount of snow may increase as you climb and gain elevation. For above-treeline trips, an ice axe or ski pole and traction devices for your boots are necessities.
Before striking out in winter, it's essential to be experienced with summer hiking and camping. A minor injury can become life-threatening in the harsh winter environment. Be sure that someone knows your trip plans.
- Be prepared for the extremes in temperature and conditions with the proper gear and clothing. Hypothermia is a hazard year-round, but is especially dangerous in winter.
- Snow cover may make route finding difficult, so know how to navigate with a map and compass.
- Early thaws with their attendant racing waters, engorged streams and mud, can make negotiating trails and streams difficult and even dangerous.