How to Avoid Falling While Hiking in Maine
I was descending a mountain, cruising down a steep slope of bedrock, when my dog, Juno, pulled on his leash. My front foot landed on a slippery pile of fallen leaves, and I got off.
It was an elegant fall. (No one was there to witness it, so no one can dispute my claim.) My right knee landed on the rock, with the palm of my left hand. I slipped, tearing a hole in my brand new hiking pants – and my skin underneath, unfortunately. But overall I was fine.
“You have to be more careful,” I told myself silently as I climbed to my feet. “Pay attention every step of the way. ”
The experience made me think. I’ve learned – and continue to learn – a lot of hiking lessons the hard way. Anyone who spends time on the trails does. But perhaps I could help you, dear reader, to avoid some mistakes.
My little fall on Tunk Mountain a few days ago was okay, but it served as a wake-up call to stay focused on my foot. Maine’s trails are filled with thick tree roots and jagged rocks, making it easy to trip over. And in the fall, a new layer of sheets of paper makes the terrain even more difficult to navigate. A dusting of snow does the same – and it often hides ice too.
Practice helps. Over the years, my hiking technique has improved. I keep a fairly wide stance and never cross my legs when walking (a sure way to lose my balance). I think I naturally learned which rocks and roots will provide sufficient footing, although I’m not always right.
While hiking someone once told me, “If it looks slippery, it’s slippery. If it doesn’t look slippery, it might still be slippery. I don’t remember who this person was (please contact me if you are reading this). But the words marked me. They seem particularly appropriate in Maine, where frequent rains turn bog bridges and bedrock slopes into Slip ‘N Slides.
I tend to fall most often when going down mountains rather than climbing. I think a lot of factors come into play: tired legs, faster pace, downhill momentum and gravity. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Saw a few hiking buddies fall on their butt, and it always seems to be downhill.
Trekking poles and trekking poles are useful for maintaining balance. I always seem to have my hands full with my dog leash and camera, but I suggest hiking poles for anyone with their hands free. When you use them, it’s a bit like having four legs rather than two.
Investing in good shoes is also essential. Everyone has their own preferences in this department. Some even walk barefoot. But I find a sturdy boot with good traction to be the best option for hiking in Maine.
I have badly behaved ankles. In fact, my husband sometimes calls me “slender ankles” when he walks behind me. They lean to the side at all times. So I don’t give them the opportunity. I almost always wear high boots with a stiff sole. So I don’t twist my ankles anymore.
The tread of your boots is also important. I always choose boots that have distinct heels defined by a 90 degree angle. This design allows the heel to grab onto roots and rocks if your foot begins to slip downhill.
Now I am going to sound judgmental here, but even if you are an experienced and careful hiker accidents do happen. This is why it is important to prepare for any potential fall by wearing survival gear, including first aid. Hiking with a companion increases your safety. Also, you should always tell someone at the house where you are hiking and when you plan to return. That way, if you break your leg, someone will know when and where to look.
No one ever intends to fall. In fact, it can be quite embarrassing.
There were times when the beauty of the natural world distracted me enough that I stumbled and fell. For example, when I go bird watching, if I look in the trees and try to walk on uneven ground, it rarely ends well.
Once at Old Speck Mountain in western Maine, I was so mesmerized by a sight that I tripped over a tree root and fell face down on a rocky ledge. Again, I was fine, although a bit scuffed and shaken.
So my advice is: Slow down. Stop the hike if you are seeing wildlife or enjoying a view. Stop the hike if you are using your camera, binoculars, or phone.
I was staring at my camera when I slipped off a snowy catwalk in February and crashed through a thin layer of ice to sit waist-deep in an icy stream. Luckily it wasn’t a very deep body of water, but I had to go back to the trailhead to change. The water instantly froze into tiny beads all over my pants as soon as I stood up. This is how it was cold. The experience also reminded me to carry extra clothes in my bag.
Come to think of it, it was also on Tunk Mountain. Next time I hike this mountain my goal will be to stand.