By Cheryl Hill, Board Member, Trailkeepers of Oregon After a week of sitting inside at my desk job I need time out on the trail. I hike for fresh air, hearing birds sing, smelling the forest, viewing sweeping…
By Paul Gerald, TKO Board Member
The basic answer right now, is NO — With recent closures of all Oregon State Parks, the Columbia Gorge Waterfall Corridor and Governor Brown’s Stay Home order, TKO recognizes we are navigating challenges we have never seen before. We support the land managers who have had to make these difficult decisions to protect staff, volunteers and visitors and the communities within these special places. When the time comes, and if you do it right, that answer might change back to access that we all desperately seek. So let’s discuss this a little more, so we are ready for when we can get back to trails we all wish to get out to.
Like you, all of us here at Trailkeepers of Oregon love trails and nature. And like you, when we suffer some bad news or anxiety — or just get a day off work — our first thoughts are often of a path leading into a forest, up a mountain, or along a river.
When COVID-19 hit, and so much of normal life stopped, many of us immediately thought, “I could use a walk and some time in nature!”
So as we all learn things like “flattening the curve” and “social isolation,” we thought we would consider a simple question with, perhaps, a complicated answer: Is it safe to get out on the trails these days?
The Basics: More Important Than Ever
As we always recommend with hiking, there are basic precautions to take:
- Don’t hike alone
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back
- Know your limits and stay within them
- Bring plenty of food and water
- Always carry the 10 Essentials.
During this pandemic, these are even more critical to adhere to. Consider, for example, that any first responders sent out to look for you and/or care for you might already be very busy — and you would be putting them (and by extension their circles) in danger of exposure should you get lost or injured.
Making sure you have what you need for the day is also critical, because any stop you make along the way — for a pre-hike coffee, a forgotten lunch or a post-hike snack — puts you in contact with people in local communities, increasing the chances of spreading the virus.
Hiking in the Time of COVID-19
Many of the precautions you have certainly heard about are also true for hiking:
- Stay 6-10 feet away from others.
- Do not go if you, or someone in your household, is sick.
- Avoid crowded places; instead of Angels Rest on a weekend morning, try a less-used hike at another time of the day or week.
- Take special care around restrooms, visitors centers, or any other places where people congregate around a hike.
- Wash your hands often and carry hand sanitizer.
Another thing to add these days would be to only carpool with people you are already in regular contact with. This isn’t the time, sad to say, to reconnect with long-lost friends and share a ride to Multnomah Falls.
Longer Trips and the Backcountry
It sounds right: What better way to do “social distancing” than to head off into the backcountry or high up in the mountains? In fact, this might be just the wrong idea. First, there’s the search-and-rescue issue mentioned above. Also consider where you want to be, should you start showing symptoms from a previously unknown infection.
As Portland Mountain Rescue put it in a Facebook post, “We sincerely ask that you make conservative risk-management choices.
“This is no time to be skiing off the summit of Hood or Adams. In fact, it would be better if you stayed off technical mountaineering routes altogether. Enjoy mellow backcountry skiing but resist the temptation to build a kicker for aerial thrills. Enjoy the touch of warm rock of a sunny 5.7 route, rather than challenging yourself on a 5.10. Savor flow on your favorite MTB trail, rather than pumping adrenaline over the perfect gap.”
What Is Even Open?
As of this writing, Oregon State Parks are open for day-use but closed for camping. You can check this link for the latest. National Forest campsites are not yet open for the season, nor have they said if they will open as usual in May. Otherwise, federal areas will be open unless a major announcement is made. We will keep you posted if we hear anything.
One thing we ask you to consider closed is the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has asked everyone to cancel or postpone their 2020 thru-hikes, and to head home if they have already started.
What Else Can We Do?
If you can’t or don’t want to get out for a hike, here are some other ideas to keep your outdoor brain engaged:
- Plan future trips
- Read outdoorsy books
- Catch up on nature documentaries on TV
- Organize and test all your gear
- Learn to dry food for future hiking snacks
- Take walks in your neighborhood, around town or to local natural areas.
And have faith. Some version of normal will return to our lives, some day. Trails and campgrounds will open, and we will be able to freely reconnect with nature and each other.
And when that day comes, Trailkeepers of Oregon will again be leading trail crews, working in places that will need our attention more than ever. We look forward to seeing you out there.
Cheryl Hill contributed research to this story.