Springtime Hiking Hazards

Spring is just around the corner!

The snow level is receding, the creeks are starting to bubble and roll and the days are getting longer.  Many hikers look forward to the return of spring and have a new found hope for more glorious days of warmer weather hiking ahead. It can be a fantastic time of year for hiking, but it can also be a time that hosts more hazards and potential dangers than any other time of year.


I keep up my hiking activities throughout the year, snowshoeing in the winter, and hiking the rest of the 3 seasons. But, for those that prefer to hunker down for the winter months, the return of spring can bring about a return to exercise.You may be a little out of practice, so start out slow, and ease into serious hiking again.  Yes, the weather is cool, but remember to hydrate and hydrate often. You'll be working a little harder if you took it easy during the winter.  Keep this in mind for your first few hikes.  Easy does it, and don't overdue it.  Take your time, and make your first few outings shorter to give you time to acclimatize to strenuous effort.  Stretch once you are warmed up a little, or at the end of your hike.  Your joints, ligaments and tendons will be all the more limber the next time you're out.


As the snow thaws, trails get wet, and what is a perfectly passable trail in the summer, can be a muddy, mucky mess.  Nows the time for waterproof, higher ankled boots, with large traction lugs.  Gaiters are pretty handy as well. Do your part for the environment, stay on the trail, even it if's muddy.  If everyone side-stepped the muddy trail in the spring, many trails would be miles wide and look like one big mud bog the next year.  As all good hikers do, minimize your impact on the land and leave as little trace of your presence as possible.

Also, your dog will likely be muddy and wet after a good spring hike.  I use a car seat cover to keep my vehicle's back seats dry and clean. And, of course, you'll want to bath your dog when you get home, even if it's just a paw wash with the hose before they get in the house.

Ice and Snow

What may begin as a dry trail at the bottom, can turn to a muddy trail and then a snowy or icy trail in valley bottoms or higher up.  Here's where traction aids like trekking poles or ice cleats shine through.  They help you get your grip in slippery conditions.  Ice cleats or crampons are ideal when you're trying to keep from slipping and sliding on the trail.


Winter storms and those of early spring tend to wreak havoc in our forested areas.  Soft, wet soil, combined with the stronger winds can lead to blown down trees.  Trail maintenance has not usually been performed during the winter months, and it can take a while for crews and volunteers to get out there. You will likely encounter more debris or obstacles across the trail. Again, try to stay on the trail as much as possible to minimize impact to the ecosystem.

Loose Rocks

The freeze/thaw cycle causes rocks with cracks in them to become a dangerous problem.  The freezing and thawing works those rocks loose and they may begin to fall, sometimes causing landslides and covering trails. Even larger boulders can work loose, especially as the soil is more wet and a lot softer in the spring.  Watch out!  Be aware of what you grab and where you put your feet.  If there's a trails below you, shout out if you disrupt some rock or soil so that others can be prepared.


Streams and creeks are always more full in the spring.  Snow melt and frequent rains often swell them to their largest proportions.  Be prepared for stream crossings with good boots, poles and gaitors.  Be wary of sudden water surges.  Small streams can become large creeks in mere minutes if it's raining hard up top or as the afternoon progresses and warms up substancially.  Keep an eye on weather conditions.  Realize that what was a passable trickle on the way up could be a raging torrent on the way down. Water can also completely wash out trails and even roads.  Be prepared in case you have to stay put until help arrives.

Unpredictable Weather

Spring is one of those times of year when the weather can change drastically and at a moment's notice.  Keep up to date with weather reports.  Dress in layers and prepare for all extremese of weather, hot and dry to cold and wet.  Spring can host all of the weather conditions we might encounter during the year in a single day.  Don't take chances, be prepared and postpone your trip if the conditions look unfavourable.


The early months of the year are a time of drastic weather changes affecting existing snow accumulations.  It can be a dangerous time for avalanches. Snowpack information becomes more scarce and it is difficult to accurately predict the risk of avalanche in many areas.  If you are hiking the backcountry, be vigilant and observe conditions around you that may result in an avalanche scenario.  Learn about avalanche safety. If you are at risk, hike in groups, were transponders and avalanche packs and carry recovery gear.  Know before you go... in Canada, you can now use the Mountain Information Network for crowdsources avalanche information and condition observations at https://www.avalanche.ca/mountain-information-network. In the US, refer to http://www.fsavalanche.org/ for up to date information.

Nasty Roads

What affects the trails, affects the roads too.  Often springtime road conditions are the worse during the year.  In any one drive you may encounter mud, potholes, ice and snow. Keep your winter tires on as long as necessary if you hit the high country in the spring.  Remember, four wheel drive and all wheel drive can help you gain traction on the way up, but won't do very much for you on the way down or when you have to turn and stop.  Use your gears, slow down and drive for the conditions. Have the tools and the knowledge for self-recovery, or better yet, travel with another vehicle.  At the very least, always carry a shovel I carry a shovel, pickaxe, and Hi-Lift jack (that can lift and winch) and appropriately rated tow ropes and chains.  Keep to the main roads and those that are maintained unless you have the gear and the ability to get yourself unstuck.


One of the joys of early spring hiking is the lack of bugs.  Don't let this lack of flying insects fool you though.  Spring is tick season. Ticks are most often found in tall grass and wooded areas.  They wait for you or your dog to pass by and brush against some bush and then they climb on, looking to feed on you as part of their lifecycle.  Here's a good article that talks about Tick Season.  This is a good time to restart  you dog's anti-tick regime, if you stopped when winter set in. Use an outdoor insect repellent with Deet on your clothing, particularly pant legs, to help deter unwanted insect guests. Remember to always check yourself and your children (furry or otherwise) for ticks whenever you return from a hike.


Springtime brings back the bears, and as they have been sleeping  all winter, they're usually pretty hungry when they emerge from their long winter's nap.  Take care, be aware, travel in groups, make lots of noise.  There is no single approach to dealing with bears. Your strategy will depend on what the bear wants from you.  Their motivation can be one of curiosity, defense or hunger. Each of these situations will require a different response.  If a bear is curious, they will easily be deterred, and will likely wander off after their curiosity has been satisfied.  If a bear is defensive, as in a mother with cubs, don't threaten the cubs, keep your distance.  If a bear is hungry and decides you are a source of food, you will need to use your bear deterrent effectively and you may be in for the fight of your life.   Here's an article I wrote about how to Safety in Bear Country.  I have had many encounters with bears, all of them concluded without incident.  Bears are beautiful creatures but like all wildlife, they must be respected.

Cougars, wolves and coyotes

Most predators are coming out of the leanest time of the year.  Winter is often the time when food sources are more scarce for animals that rely on other animals for food.  They are hungry and may take chances to get the sustenance they need. As in the winter, predators are still found lower in elevation as they follow their food sources.  Encounters do tend to be more frequent in the early spring for this reason.  For the most part, these predators are going to leave you alone.  All predators measure the risk of an encounter.  With wild dogs and cats, you have to make sure that the cost of the encounter will be too high for the animals involved.  Pick up your children or your smaller dogs.  Make yourself big and make lots of noise.  Get your group to spread out, show the predator that you have the advantage.  Intimidate the animal, if it does attack, fight back and mean it.  I have encountered almost all of the cats and dogs of the wild kingdom, and I have never had an issue.  Seeing some of these creatures in the wild is a reward in, and of, itself.


Spring is one of my favorite times of year.  Waterfalls, the greening of the forest and the return of birds are things we look forward to in winter.  The promise of new life and warmer days starts me thinking about those big hikes I want to accomplish.  Be aware of the potential dangers, but most of all, enjoy the beauty and the warmer days of spring! Have fun and stay safe!


Hiking in the Summer: How to Beat the Heat

With the recent heat wave and record breaking temperatures in the Okanagan and abroad, I've been thinking about how I've learned to enjoy hiking in the outdoors, even in the middle of summer.  Below are some factors to consider and tips that I hope help you get out and beat the heat!


Check the weather forecast, it's not always blisteringly hot in the summer, there are cool days and breezy days. Hiking in the summer rain can be quite refreshing! Plan your trips for days that are going to be more enjoyable. The weatherman doesn't always get it right, but having an idea of trending weather patterns is very helpful in avoiding the heat.

Time of Day

The time of day makes a huge difference as to how warm it gets.  Early morning hikes are certainly cooler, but head out in the heat of the afternoon and you'll be exerting yourself in the hottest part of the day.  Of course, it usually tends to cool down towards evening most days. Consider late afternoon departures and returns after dark.  Some of my best hiking experiences have been enjoyed via headlamp in the cool night air.


As experienced hikers know, it's always cooler in the mountains.  The higher the elevation, the less dense the air is, and the less heat capacity it has.  That is, it's cooler the higher up you go.  The caveat here is that sometimes the sun's rays can be stronger as the atmosphere thins.  So keep up with the sunscreen and keep covered.

Plan Your Destination

If you know it's going to be warm, choose a trail that is densely covered with shade.  Hiking along a cool shady path in the middle of a hot day is the epitome of beating the heat!  Foliage can have a big impact on the ambient temperature as well.  Hiking along a stream or near a lake can also help keep you cool as the presence of water has a moderating effect on temps. Another favorite trick is to head out where the shadows are long from a local mountain and avoid the sun for hours at a time.

Base Layer

A base layer is the clothing that you put directly against your skin, either as the only layer or as an underpinning for you outer clothes. It's critical that this layer is a wicking material, that is, it pulls moisture away from your skin.  Choose materials that are designed to keep you cool and dry, like Merino wool or a good synthetic.  Whatever you choose, you want the moisture from your body's exertion to be pulled away from your skin to evaporate so that you are cooled as you sweat.  Don't wear cotton next to your skin because it gets wet and stays wet, making you feel hot and sweaty. You are also much more likely to chaff and blister wearing wet cotton.

Outer Clothing

The lighter the color of your clothing, the cooler you'll stay.  Lighter colors reflect the sun's rays, darker colors absorb them.  Also, keeping covered can help keep you cool!  This seems counter intuitive, but if you look at the clothes people wear in extremely hot areas of the world, it's all about coverage and a loose fit.  You're much less likely to burn as well, if you are more covered. You want your outer layers to be of a lightweight, breathable fabric that has a good SPF (sun protection factor). Wear a hat, and keep the sun off your head, wide brims are better protection than a ball-cap.

Listen to Your Body

Studies have proven that your body is very self regulating, to the point that it will slow you down, and even stop you from exerting yourself if it gets too hot.  Have you ever noticed how you feel slow and lethargic on the hottest of days?  That's your body telling you it's probably too warm to start getting physical. Even starting out a hike in warmer weather, your will likely feel more sluggish as your body anticipates getting warmer due to muscle exertion.  Take more frequent breaks and listen to your body telling you it's starting to get too warm.

Heat Adaptation

Scientific evidence shows that if you exercise in the heat, your body will begin to adapt and you'll become more efficient within about 5 days.  It actually takes about 2 week to fully adapt, but the rate of heat adaption is significantly more rapid in the first 5 days of exposure to warmer temperatures.  Give yourself a chance to adapt to the heat before really pushing yourself.

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

When you exercise in the heat, you sweat, a lot! Water is the lubrication that keeps your human machine running efficiently. You need to keep your body hydrated, that is, you need to drink water to replace the water that is evaporating off of you as your body attempts to cool itself.  It's recommended to drink at least a litre (16oz) over the couple hours before you hit the trail, and then a cup (250ml) of water, at least, for every 15 minutes of exertion during your hike. If you're sweating, you're not just using up your body's water reserves, you are also consuming the salts that help balance your body's internal blood pressure and nervous system.  These salts are called electrolytes and you need to replenish them as you hydrate too. Have a good snack on the trail or even add a small amount of Gatorade powder to your water bottle to keep your body happy.

Tip: Dip Your Feet!

There is almost nothing better in this world than, after, a long hot hike, finding a stream or lake, taking off your boots and socks and dipping your feet and ankles in the cold refreshing water.  You have to try it if you haven't ever. There is nothing like it, and it is my absolute favorite way to beat the heat while hiking in the summer.


We're Back!

After a summer sabbatical, Walks 'n Trees is back!

We've even got a new logo! 

Please stay tuned!!

There'll be gear reviews for...

Teton Sports
Ultimate Survival Technologies
Light My Fire
Mountain Equipment Coop
and more

There'll be articles about my favorite hikes both local and remote.

I'll even be doing a feature on my new Electric Fatbike from Surface 604 and Kelowna E Ride.

It's going to be awesome!
Check back in a week for some great new content!


Quick Hike: Magic Estates to Knox Mountain Pagoda


Length: 2.5km (round trip)
Time: 30 minutes (round trip)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
One of my favourite short hikes is along the ridge above Okanagan Lake in Kelowna, BC from Magic Estates to the Pagoda at the top of Knox Mountain.


There are spectacular long range views of the lake, almost reaching north to Vernon and facing south you can see Mount Boucherie.
As there are many trails in this area, and you never have to pick the exact same route twice.
The main trail is quite wide, with some rolling hill climbs, and it can make you feel a bit uncomfortable if you have issues with heights.
Like most of the hiking trails within the city limits, dogs on leash are permitted.
If you have limited time and would like to see some spectacular scenery, this trail is for you!


Outdoor Memories

I remember when I was young, and my parents would entertain. Company would come over for dinner, and after supper the slide show would begin.  Everyone would head to the front room, Dad would turn out the lights, the projector would whir into action and he'd enthrall the audience with the captured images of places he'd been and things he'd done.

Recently, I've been going through those old slides.  Dad was a prolific photographer! I had no idea he had taken so many great pictures in his many years with his 35mm SLR Pentax. I still have years of scanning ahead of me, but it's going to be a labour of love, and I task I am really looking forward to completing.

As I began to scan the first few slides, I started to see pictures of myself in his collection.  Memories started to flood back, I found myself thinking, "Oh, I remember that hiking trip", and "that's when we went winter camping at Sunset Lake" and so on.

I guess I'd been there for a lot of his life too, I'd been adventuring in the wilderness since I was just a little guy. Dad used to joke, that I was an outdoorsman even before I was born, as he would go off with my Mom (who was pregnant with me) to explore the hills, right up until a few weeks before I was born. I'd always just taken it for granted, I grew up in the woods, it is part of me, but seeing these pictures, really put it into perspective.

I've always been so comfortable in the outdoors, even more comfortable than in my own home town, and so much more comfortable than in the city.  It's not surprising now, looking back, I've been experiencing nature for so long, it's part of who I am.  Living in the Okanagan Valley, in BC, so close to the wilderness, every spare evening, every weekend, my father would take me out and show me the things he loved about the mountains and the lakes, the backroads and the bush.  I have the greatest appreciation, now, for all that he did for me then.


Video: Mule Deer Bucks Sparring

A few years ago now, just after Christmas, the kids were feeling like they needed a good hike. We headed over to Knox Mountain in Kelowna, to do some Geocaching and stretch our legs.  It hadn't snowed that year, so there was easy access to the more remote sections of the park. We were fortunate and spotted some deer and then these two young bucks started having a sparring match.

They start out a little slow, then they really get into it, and finally one of the bucks takes off.  It's a little unusual, as typically, bucks fight during the rut in the fall, not the winter.

It was great for the kids to see, and a neat treat for a walk in the park.



The Joy of the Micro-Adventure

I grew up in the outdoors.  My Dad used to say that I was an outdoor adventurer before I was born, as he and my Mom were out enjoying the woods, hiking, camping and fishing while she was pregnant with me.  They didn't waste much time after I was born either, they would take me with them every time they would head out into the wilderness.

My Dad's style of getting out was pretty fanatical.  He'd pack up the night before, hit the road before the sun was up, and then spend all day doing what he loved in the woods.  I grew up thinking that to enjoy the outdoors, it had to be an "all-in" experience.  The whole day or "no way".

As I matured, and started having kids of my own, I tried to emulate those days with my Dad and Mom, full day outings, all the time.  It became challenging.  The kids weren't always up for spending a whole day in the woods, sometimes they'd get tired, or cranky.  Sometimes, they would have homework to do, or other plans.  My wife, Gen, wasn't always thrilled about being away from home either, when there were important things needing doing at home.

I began to wonder, is there a better way? Am I doing it wrong? Why are these full day excursions becoming a problem? I started to get out less and less.  My wife took me aside one day while I was lamenting my fate, while I was feeling grumpy that I couldn't be out enjoying nature as I wished to do.  She said something to me that I didn't quite understand at the time, but I have learned to comprehend and even embrace.

She said "you don't always have to go our for the whole day, you know, you could go out for the morning, or the afternoon, or even just a couple of hours."  This was crazy talk!  I was incredulous, she was mad, out of her mind!  Who did she think she was!? If I couldn't be out for the whole day, I just wasn't going to do it! 

Months passed, years passed, my struggle to get out for the whole day, resulting in less and less contact with the mountains and the lakes that I love.  Contact I needed to recharge my batteries and clear my mind.  One Sunday afternoon in August, I was again feeling upset that I was sitting at home when there were beautiful lakes and stunning vistas to explore.  Gen came to me and said those words again "you don't always have to go our for the whole day, you know, you could go out for the morning, or the afternoon, or even just a couple of hours.  In fact, why don't we just throw a picnic lunch together, grab the fishing rods, and see what we can find out there."

I gave in, "Sure, fine, whatever, you'll see, we'll get out there and everyone will be on the lakes, forest roads will be crowded, we won't have any fun, because we won't be out there long enough."  Gen just smiled and said "let's try it, this once, maybe it'll work out OK."  I gave in, we packed up quickly, I was sure we were missing all the things we needed, but we went anyways.

Because our time was limited, I picked a quick route up into the mountains, via the highway, and an easy access point to the forest.  Because we were so close to town, I was sure the woods would be littered with people, and we weren't going to be able to have any space to ourselves.  We took an off shoot road, and another turn, pretty well driving at random, but I was starting to relax.  I'd been here briefly before, I was sure there was a lake around here somewhere. In a few more minutes, we'd found a clear stretch of shore, where we could cast out into a pretty little lake, and have a campfire for some hotdogs.

"Well, I'll be..." I though to myself, Is it true, was Gen right? Is it possible, that we could just go out for the afternoon and still have fun?  I made a little fire for roasting the hotdogs, and while Gen and my little guy, Kyle, started to make supper, I tied on a fly and made a quick cast.  Kaboom! I was so surprised by the big fish that hit my fly so quickly, in the still water, I missed setting the hook, and he got away. Kyle say something surface 8' to the right "Daddy, there he is, get him!", and sure enough, with a quick 2nd cast, I had a beautiful 1 1/2 pound rainbow trout!  Gen grabbed the camera and took a picture, we put the fish in the cooler, and ate our hotdogs as the stars began to poke out of the clear sky and the sun set over the lake.

Soon we were on our way home again, having been out for only a few hours, but having had a wonderful time, enjoying some nature and each other's company.  Feeling content and satisfied, and a little surprised that such a thing as a quick adventure, was actually possible we were carrying along the dirt road heading back to the hightway.  There was still a surprise in store for us. All of a sudden, a cow moose lept out of the bushes ont he side of the road and started running directly ahead of the truck.  She was beautiful, but completely oblivious to the 2 tonnes of metal bearing down on her.  I slammed on the brakes, we skidded for 60 or 70 feet as she carried on loping ahead.  We grabbed the camera, but it was so dark the flash only highlighted our windshield, and we never did get a picture of that wondrous creature.  It was the first time Gen and Kyle had even seen a moose, and they couldn't stop talking about it the whole way home.

I look back now, and realize, that was a changing point in our lives.  I fully acknowledge and accept now, what I could not before.  Any adventure, whether it is grand excursion of multiple days hiking in the mountains, or a micro adventure, a quick afternoon jaunt in the woods, is a good adventure.

Please comment and share, what was your greatest micro-adventure?