The bright sun beats down as the group rounds the final, jagged bend. The air is warm but fresh, smelling of crisp leaves. A light summer breeze rejuvenates the group enough for them to take the last few steps up the rugged trail. The view at the top of Utah Valley makes it all worth it. One hiker pulls out his selfie stick to document the Instagram-worthy feat.
Social media followers only see the view from the top — not the required training, steep climbs and uneven terrain.
While it may seem adventurous to drop everything and go on a spontaneous summer hike, safety and preparation must be considered before hikers embark on their journeys. What might begin as a carefree climb may quickly head south if hikers do not take the necessary precautions.
Mallory Reese, a BYU marketing student and regular hiker, explained that the most important part of choosing a hike is for hikers to know what they are getting themselves into.
“A lot of times you see people’s pictures on Instagram and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to go do that, that looks cool,’ … but you need to know what you’re doing first,” Reese said.
She advises potential hikers to familiarize themselves with the existing conditions of the trails and identify whether there are areas that are steep or would require scrambling.
Hikers must be aware that even though a hike to the summit is ideal, it’s not always possible.
“Sometimes going to the summit is not the most important thing. (Hikers must) be willing to turn around if it’s not safe … half of the trip is making it back down,” Reese said.
Not only is it important to identify the conditions of the trail, but it’s also necessary to identify the conditions of the group that a person might be hiking with.
Will Taylor, founder of the Facebook group Adventures with Will, leads college-aged hikers on group hikes and other adventures around Utah while they learn necessary outdoor skills. In his opinion, the most serious consideration when planning a hike is group dynamics. The hike must be physically suitable for all skill sets and abilities of the group. Failing to pay attention to group dynamics is “more dangerous than hiking alone,” Taylor said.
Taylor recognizes that preparedness is essential, but that doesn’t mean unexpected situations never arise. He was recently caught in a storm that arrived earlier than expected when hiking King’s Peak, just south of the central Uinta Mountains. Rain turned into heavy sleet, and he and his friends were forced to run for cover under trees.
Hiking the outdoors can sometimes be unpredictable, making it impossible for hikers to prevent everything, Taylor said.
However, hikers must still be vigilant in their preparation. Kathy Jo Pollock, public affairs specialist for Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest, said one of the most important tips for hikers is to plan an itinerary and stick to it. She finds that often when hikers deviate from their plans, they get lost.
Additionally, she suggests keeping another person informed of the planned itinerary. Hikers should tell a friend where they are going and about what time they will return.
In Utah County specifically, Pollock said the summer weather can sometimes be deceiving for hikers as they begin climbing up high elevation mountains and encounter colder climates.
“A lot of the trails are fairly steep at higher elevations. Even in mid-summer (hikers) could run into snow… right now the trails are extremely wet and muddy at mid-elevation, and the higher they go, they are hiking through snow. They need to be prepared for that,” Pollock said.
Even if hikers plan to be home by sunset, Pollock recommends bringing gear, including extra water and clothing, in case they’re forced to stay overnight.
“We want everybody to enjoy their hikes out in the forest because there is some pretty spectacular country, and we want everybody to get home safe,” Pollock said.
Reese reiterated this point by mentioning that becoming too fearful can also be a hindrance to the hiking experience. She discussed a time she hiked Mount Timpanogos and some girls came down the trail saying there was a bear at the top. She assessed the risk and likelihood of the event occurring and decided to keep going. She later found it was really a group of mountain goats.
“I think if you’re too scared all the time and super cautious, you’ll miss out on some really great experiences, and part of hiking and being outdoors is getting you out of your comfort zone,” Reese said.
Hiking is a constant balancing act that comes with experience, but preparing prior to a hike can make the experience much more enjoyable.