Loc: Portland, OR
I just spent most of the last two weeks out hiking (sure, go ahead and be jealous). As usual whenever I am hiking anywhere that is within a few hours of the trailhead, I sometimes meet hikers coming up as I am going out. Sometimes I stop and exchange pleasantries with them for a minute or two... and then comes the dreaded question:
"How much longer before we get to (fill in the blank)?"
I hate this question. Usually I've been bounding down the trail, downhill, oblivious to mileage, totally unable to estimate how long it's been since I passed that spot, let alone estimate how long it will take the person in front of me to trudge there uphill.
So, I flail. I want to answer their question. I want to be helpful and I can't. What's worst is when the person asking is obviously in over their head and hasn't a clue what they are in for. How many diplomatic ways are there to say, "you're toast; turn back now"?
Loc: Northern California, USA
I've admittedly been on both sides of this discussion. If someone asks, I'll usually tell them the amount of time I'm gone with qualifiers (such as I was hauling butt downhill). Then it's up to them to adjust to fit their situation.
When I'm asking, it's usually either a) a polite way to make small talk when you pass someone on the trail or b) in rare cases to determine whether or not I should give up on my goal and look for a place to make camp earlier. Usually I have a pretty good idea of where I am based on maps though.
I try not to put the answer in terms of time ("about another 20 minutes brings you to the creek.") They're not hiking the same speed I am, so I try to answer in distance. If I know, pretty closely, I'll tell them ("Well, I passed that trail junction probably half a mile back, and it says it's 4 miles from there to the falls.") The half mile may really only be a quarter mile; I estimate high if I'm uncertain. If I don't know, or there isn't a trail marker to go off of, I'll pull out a map, say "we're about here, and you want to go there. It looks like..." and we'll work out the mileage together.
The sad part is, they sometimes don't have their own map. I've given up a Forest Service or National Park map a number of times, and even parted with one or two topos. I don't know if it helped; I purposely avoid the "Lost hiker found..." articles for a couple of weeks after that.
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By Glenn
I purposely avoid the "Lost hiker found..." articles for a couple of weeks after that.
Had to chuckle at this -- although I've seen so many knuckleheads in the back country over the years that I have sometimes wondered "did these folks make it out O.K.?" Or "what made them think this would be a good idea?"
My blog on politics, the environment and the outdoors: Haiwee.blogspot.com
"How fast do you want to get there, and how hard do you want to work to make it happen?"
Sometimes I make them pay for it by making it an educational moment. Get out the map and say, okay, how long has it taken you to get from this lake to here? well, it's about the same distance to the trailhead. Think you can keep going the same pace? Great! You should get there about midnight. Have a great day!
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
Loc: Puget Sound, Washington
"HEY DUDE, LOOKING GOOD, LOOKING GOOD!!!" Then I give them a big "thumb's up" and I'm down the trail before they can even point out that I haven't answered their question.
In fact, there were so many day hikers going into Colchuck Lake in the Enchantments near Leavenworth, WA last Saturday when we were heading back towards the trailhead that our time was substantially longer because we had to keep stepping off to the side of the trail and allow the uphill hikers by. And, yes, many were not carrying the "ten essentials" or even water.
Funny thing is that when my husband and I are out together, he gives them one answer and me an entirely different one. Then we go on our way, leaving them confused! We are not trying to be contrary- we both have such different perceptions of distance and time.
OK, here I will confess. I honestly do not feel personally responsible for all the hikers out there. Particulary if I've been off trail for days without seeing anyone. About all the information I give out is "its a ways" or "almost there". Then I leave before other questions are asked.
On my last trip's hike out I really had to bite my tongue. The trailhead was one of those that offers a nice quick trip into better stuff, but is hot, dusty and not scenic for nearly six miles. Definitely not a trail for day-hiking. This poor family with 8-10 year old kids was coming up the trail obviously day-hiking. The little boy was dragging his feet whining "this is realy boring". I so much wanted to say- "your so right kid and it does not get better for six miles!" Parents were putting on a good show tring to convince the kids how wonderful everything was. The kids who were not so easily fooled were resisting. The dad had made the boy a hiking stick out of a branch. As I was passing the boy said " look, she has REAL hiking poles". Having been a parent, I knew any comment from me would not be welcome.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Are we there, yet?
I was asked that at least five times on the way back from some waterfalls I guided some people to this spring. The trail there was less than three miles long and they had just walked it with me on the way there. I just answered, "I dunno, I can get out my map and GPS and show you."
Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
OK, here I will confess. I honestly do not feel personally responsible for all the hikers out there.
Well I am glad to hear that I'm not alone in feeling that way.
I've met way too many hikers, canoers, boaters, 4-Wheelers, etc., that thought I was responsible for them.
I've railed on about this in other threads so I'll try not do that here, but I will say that what they all have in common is an uncanny ability to ignore common sense and good advice, and after that, an imposing inclination to shift their burden onto my shoulders and a strong conviction that I owe it to them to carry it.
Of course, I don't take it personal, I'm sure they'd do the same to anyone they'd run into. I suspect they bumble through their entire life that way
I don't feel any responsibility to them, either, beyond that of simple decency: if I have more than I need, and they look like they might seriously need it, I'll share. This rarely extends farther than a map, some granola bars, or an offer to use my filter to refill a couple of canteens.
We were camped about 6 miles from a trailhead once, many years ago, when a group of 8 or 10 dayhikers showed up, around dusk, asking if the trailhead was just over the next hill. (It wasn't.) After explaining that the trailhead they wanted was behind them, not in front of them (and that they should have known they went the wrong way when they stepped off the blacktop), and that it was about 6 miles away, we did ask if they'd like to spend the night with us. We couldn't spare any tent space or sleeping bags, but we did have a few space blankets and some fleece jackets, and could have fixed them a light meal (that was back when we all carried "emergency" food.) When they declined, we filled their water bottles and gave them a map and a spare flashlight (a cheapie, which might have even lasted all the way back.) Then we went to bed, and figured that the worst outcome was that the gene pool would get a bit deeper.
I've been on both side of this question, but nothing too extreme like you guys have experienced. lol. Sometimes I feel like I need a GPS. Only for distance purpose. When I hike long-distance, I always try to use my resources carefully. I pretty much always know how far I'm going or where the next water source is, etc. But problem is, I sometimes miscalculate how far I've been hiking and how much further I got to go. (as evident during my last trip on 32 mile trek on AT in the Smokies) I do this for water purpose, food, and how my body feels. I like to manage my resource by how much miles I have to go. If I have short mile to go to camp, I won't eat any powerbars, I'll save them for next day and eat my meal at camp instead. If I'm close to a water source, I'll go ahead and drink my water up and resupply there. you know? It hard to explain how I think, but it way my mind can work sometimes. haha. Sometimes when you know you have a short walk to go it can give you last minute energy burst than if you know you have some more to miles to go.
It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.-- Horace Kephart
I must be too grubby or something because I don't get quizzed often. I try to be helpful but it's true, one has to filter the response depending on who's asking. I'm very conservative dishing advice/directions to anybody with kids.
I think we all tend to do the things you do, keeping a rough and ready kind of "where am I" calculation in our head most of the time. (For example, if I've got 4 miles from last water to next water, I know it should take me 2 - 3 hours to get there, and so an hour and a half later, I should be halfway there - which I can confirm with my map in general terms: "Yeah, I crossed that ridge about a half hour ago, after climbing some switchbacks, just like the map shows; it was just less than halfway, so I'm probably where I think I am.") Then we ration food, water, and remaining daylight accordingly.
Some of the folks we encounter, though, haven't got a clue. When they are going to "the waterfall" which you know is 4 miles in, and they ask "how far" when you can still see their car in the parking lot, all you can do is say, "A couple of hours, at least" and hope for the best. What's really scary is when the next questions are, "how far is it back to the parking lot?" and "can we hike back with you so we don't get lost?"
When on the High Route last year I met several also doing the route the opposite direction. We exchanged information on conditions, but no way would we even think of asking how may more miles or "where are we". If you do not know how to keep track of exactly where you are, you have no business being on a 200 mile off-trail route!
In the past I was more accomodating but after a lot of effort and little thanks, I have become less involved with other's plights. Case in point- found a large stack of maps at a remote campsite- next day went down this very difficult route (Enchanted Gorge in the Sierra), met the fellows who had forgotten their maps. I showed them my map but no way was I going to give it to them. It was my only map and I still needed it. I got their address, packed their maps out, and sent them back. The worth of that stack of map was nearly $70, more than a pound of extra weight in my pack for more than a week and postage out of my pocket at about $8. Not even a letter of thanks. Next map I found left on the trail, I simply kept the "booty" even though there was a name on the map and I could hav called FS to get address from their permit.
If someone were in medical distress, I would stop and do everything I could. But just answering a question of "are we there"- no way.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I almost never ask myself that question because I almost never have a place in mind where I feel I need to be when I backpack.
I love having my GPS with me. I don't break it out as much as I used to when I first got one, but I do use it sometimes to help decide where I will go next or spend the night. I like my printed maps too, and almost always use them to view the bigger picture and my GPS mainly for quickly locating where I am on those maps if I want to figure out how far I have to go.
Since I don't spend a lot of time on trails, and rarely take a specified route, I tend to judge time and distance based on how long I've been moving and a general idea of the terrain I need to cover to get where I want to go. It's really more of a gut feeling I rely on than hard data.
If I'm heading back to the car I just make sure I have plenty of time to get there. On the rare occasions that I've found myself trying to beat the sundown back to my car I've always been able to pick up the pace, and since LED lighting I haven't had to worry much about that.
On the way back, there have been many more times that I really didn't have a very good idea of exactly how much further I had to go. Since I knew I had plenty of time it didn't really matter. I have been a bit disappointed more than once by getting back earlier than I really wanted to though, and kicked myself a bit for not meandering more on the way back. Whenever that happens I always ask myself the exact opposite of that question
Being able to estimate the distance you have walked is a REALLY useful skill to have and I am constantly working on it. Often I do not take a watch so estimating time is another skill. I'm pretty good at it as long as I can see the sun. On overcast days, it's a struggle. Going back to the car should take less time because I am going downhill mostly. But every time it SEEMS to take longer! I think the anticipation that it should be easy skews my perception of time. Mostly the last few miles out to a trailhead is through boring country, so that boredom also makes time drag. I look at my watch (when I have it) and think OMG, I have only been hiking 15 minutes? I swear it "feels" like an hour!
Loc: San Diego CA
"Are we there yet?" sounds like my kids until just recently. I can remember in Boy Scouts when doing our training backpacks for the big one in the Sierras (I was 11 along with about half the troupe), after a few miles the cries of how much further would start. The dads would answer with "you know there is a malt shop at the top and we'll all get some when we get there". We (the 11 year olds) weren't the brightest and I think it took all three training trips before we realized they were pulling our legs about the malt shop.
Mostly the last few miles out to a trailhead is through boring country, so that boredom also makes time drag. I look at my watch (when I have it) and think OMG, I have only been hiking 15 minutes? I swear it "feels" like an hour!
The final slog to the parking lot is when the ipod comes out, with no apologies needed. Especially on horsepacker highways.
The worth of that stack of map was nearly $70, more than a pound of extra weight in my pack for more than a week and postage out of my pocket at about $8. Not even a letter of thanks.
I like receiving thank-yous and I usually stop giving things to people who don't respond with some sort of acknowledgement. It's not the accolades I am after, but rather I want to know the item was received, not lost in the mail, whatever. However, if I don't hear anything I don't let it get to me (usually) and I still plan on doing my best to treat the next person the way I would like to be treated.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
Going back to the car should take less time because I am going downhill mostly.
I hadn't ever really thought about it, but when I hiked out west I do recall that being mostly the case for me too, but here it's just the opposite most times.
Trailheads generally begin on a ridgetop here, and follow them down. Roads are built mostly on the ridgetops, that's why the trailheads mostly start there.
But it's never more than 7-8 miles before you hit a bottom, and usually much less, so a general rule is that last couple miles back you're trending uphill to a trailhead. I usually bushwhack a hollow on the way back that leads to the ridge and you come up either to the right or left of the trailhead.
I've learned to count the fingers and cuts as I hike through the hollows and on the ridges, and by doing that I usually have a pretty good idea of where I am in relation to where I want to go. After lots of climbing way steeper hills than I expected, I've even learned to read a topo map a lot better
I still surprise myself a lot though, and I learn something every time I get out. After 16 years here I think I can say I'm finally getting to know a little about how to get around here.
At least I know how to get where I'm unlikely to run into anyone that would be asking that question
I hear that question more often near the trailhead, not so much in the backcountry. Mostly asked by less experienced hikers who have set out to hike to "the lake", "the waterfall", etc., and are feeling tired out and wondering whether to keep pushing on or turn around. I don't begrudge them whatever info I am able to provide, vague as it may be ("I passed it an hour or two ago"). Not everybody has had the opportunity to be trained in the ways of the outdoors by scouting, NOLS, parents, friends, etc. For those who are doing this without any background, a mile is a very nebulous concept! It takes experience to "get" it, and if someone as experienced as WD still works at judging time and distance, how much harder must it be for those babes in the woods?
I agree with the concept of trying to treat everyone as I would like to be treated. I like to think that with encouragement ("yeah, it's another hour or so, but it's really beautiful up there!"), some of these people will go on to have more positive experiences in the outdoors and maybe end up being the ones answering questions one day. Sure, there are the dopes that just won't ever get it, but I am not interested in deciding which people "deserve" an answer and which don't.
I generally don't mind answering questions on the trail as I think it does build a camaraderie and helps to share info. But I just got slightly burned a couple of weeks ago by a backpacker who gave me unsolicited (but at the time I thought welcome) information.
We were climbing up to a pass and she told us that she had not gone all the way up two nights before, but had camped in a saddle because it looked quite difficult. That following day she dayhiked up to the pass and talked about how dicey it was with lots of snow and boulders as big as houses that had to be scrambled over.
I trusted her judgement since she had hiked all of the JMT. So when we came to a snowfield and some scrambling only about 200 yards up the trail that we managed to get through (and supposedly this was not the bad stuff), I had a discussion with the other adult and we decided that with the seven boys we had with us, we should look for a campsite nearby and call it a day. I probably would have gone on if just with capable adults, but I was in no way risking boys whose parents had entrusted me with them. We actually found a great spot (see the pictures below) where the boys were able to slide on the snow and have a snowball fight, so it turned out pretty good.
Later that day, I asked if any wanted to explore further up the trail. Six of us took off with light packs to see how bad it was. The trail was uneventful to the next high lake where the boys enjoyed taking pictures of the floating ice. We saw three others who were coming down from a day hike from their backcountry base camp and talked with them a bit. From where we were, we could see almost up to the pass.
It turns out that the woman we had talked to earlier in the day had taken the wrong route, which did have some boulder scrambling and some snow, but we could now see her route completely and it wasn't nearly as bad as envisioned. It was getting late, so we headed back to camp.
The next morning four of us climbed to the pass and the correct route was not nearly as bad as we were led to believe. We did have some snowfields and some boulders, but they were quite manageable. With the morning sun bathing the mountains to the west, it turned out great.
I generally try to assess the abilities of the person providing info and also the person I am providing info to. It is interesting to hear 20-somethings say one thing about difficulty versus others that are not nearly in the same shape or experience level. Well, live and learn and in this case I made the wrong assessment, but it turned out perfectly fine.