Hiking Lake Tahoe safely starts with preparation, respect
Droves of visitors come to the Lake Tahoe Basin from all around the world, and the wealth of outdoor opportunities in the area makes it unique and widely popular. Hiking is the most straightforward way to enjoy Tahoe on all sides of the lake — especially when done safely and strategically.
“We want people to come here and enjoy themselves — and be safe,” said Lisa Herron, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “Nothing is more tragic when people go out into the backcountry, and get injured, lost — or worse.”
The Forest Service has a national campaign called “Know Before You Go” that encourages preparation as the key to a safe and successful hike — whether for the day or overnight. Herron said hikers should check the weather, have a plan and let someone know of the location and duration of a trip before heading out on the trails.
For shorter hikes and those that head into the backcountry alike, Herron said having a physical map and a compass can help to avoid getting lost — cell phones are helpful, but won’t always have service in the wilderness.
In the event that a hiker gets turned around, taking time to collect oneself is an important step to finding the right way to go.
“The biggest thing in a situation like that is to stay calm and not panic,” said Herron, who recommended carrying a small mirror and whistle to help in such a situation. “Don’t just go off and try to find your way, stop and take stock of where you’re at — do your best from the signs that are around you.”
Herron also encouraged those getting out on the trails not to do so alone. Not having a partner on the trail only complicates an accident such as a fall or injury.
“A lot of people tend to do that and it can be very dangerous,” Herron said.
WHAT TO BRING, WHAT TO WEAR
When it comes to packing for a day hike, Maggie Brandenburg of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association says it’s better to be over-prepared. For the association’s outdoor and youth programs manager, her backpack starts with the essential items — food, water and clothing.
“If you plan for the unexpected to happen, then you’ll always be prepared,” Brandenburg said. “It’s always worth it to have a backpack with things you don’t think you’re going to need in it.”
According to Brandenburg, the most essential of those necessary items is a good hydration system. That means at least one liter of water per person, and even as much as three depending on conditions and the length of the hike.
For clothing, Brandenburg explained that it’s important to hike in comfortable clothes — and have extra options in case conditions change. Other items that make for a safer hike include hiking boots, a hat, sunscreen and bug spray.
“Know what you’re getting yourself into — where you’re going and what the weather is going to be like,” Brandenburg said. “That’s the best way to have what you need.”
As far as mixing drinking and hiking, Brandenburg didn’t discourage it. But she recommended doing so in a safe and responsible manner.
“It’s about being safe, knowing your limits, knowing where you are and always being aware of your surroundings and what your capabilities are,” she said.
LEAVE NO TRACE, BE RESPECTFUL
As far as hiking etiquette goes, Brandenburg said the best practice is Leave No Trace. It is a code of ethics with seven principles that including planning and respecting surroundings.
“Take only pictures and leave only footprints,” Brandenburg said to sum it up. “It basically comes down to do unto others as you would have them do to you — be nice to people on the trail, pick up trash, don’t leave trash and respect wildlife.”
When passing fellow hikers, wave, nod, say hello, start a short conversation by seeing where they’re headed or simply tell them to have a nice hike. On multi-use trails, everybody yields to horses and it is custom for mountain bikers to yield to hikers — though those on foot can give way when the situation calls.
“Hikers are nice people — be nice and say something to them,” Brandenburg said.
In addition to avoiding chasing or provoking animals, hikers can respect wildlife by minimizing noise, both conversationally and if trekking with music. On the Tahoe Rim Trail and other narrow hikes in the area, Brandenburg said that respect extends to walking single file within the trail instead of stepping outside it.
“When you step off the trail and are walking on the side of the trail, you’re stomping on plants, killing ant homes and matting down the dirt so plants have a harder time growing,” Brandenburg said.
Simply put, respect for fellow hikers, the environment and wildlife while on the trail is the best way to enjoy a trip into the wilderness.