Recently, I came across the term ‘Selfie Tourism,’ a phenomenon that has immensely affected travel industry in both a positive and negative way. It was used in a video on social media, where loggers in Costa Rica chopped down a tree to capture a sleeping sloth and sell it into the tourism trade for ignorant travelers to snuggle up with in front of the camera. Not only was it horrifying to watch this poor creature fall hundreds of feet from the trees, but knowing that sloths, with a slower heart rate than most mammals, could die if startled by too much commotion in an environment where they are issued out for photographs.
Not only has this ‘Selfie Tourism’ threatened wildlife, but it is also inviting a new group of ignorant travelers to visit the more out-of-reach places without proper research. In the outdoor recreation community, whether you are hiking, backpacking, boating, climbing, or other, it is understood that these activities require some experience and skill. Instead, for those travelers who show up ‘for the photo,’ we’re seeing first time hikers attempting advanced trails, resulting in more emergency rescues than we’ve seen in previous years.
Let’s consider the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a popular vacation destination for New Englanders in both the summer and winter. Over the past few years, hiking trails in the region have seen double and even triple the number of visitors. Local forest rangers are working overtime to manage traffic and parking, and the once quiet summits are starting to see some bigger crowds. Many trails can be hiked in a day—the Franconia Ridge, possibly the most popular loop hike in the Whites, is a long but rewarding hike that can still have intermediate to advanced hikers home by dinner. But for those looking for specific locations, such as the coveted Bondcliff summit (which offers an awesome photo opportunity) or Mount Washington (New England’s highest peak), most amateur hikers don’t realize how strenuous the trails are, and realize while on the trail that they may be in trouble. That is the perfect recipe to call in the rescue crews.
By no means do I discourage travelers to head out into the wilderness for the lofty photo goals (I myself love sharing pictures from my adventures, just look at our Instagram page!). Instead, I urge you to prepare ahead of time—with simple training, safety checks, and consulting a professional, you can avoid disaster and get the most out of your trip. While we can adjust the following to various parts of the world, let’s instead focus on how to best prepare for a hike in New Hampshire so you can have that amazing experience safely.
The AMC has high huts where hikers can stay overnight an break up their hike into two or more days. Reservations include a bed, dinner and breakfast, plus some incredible views!
Do Your Research
This seems redundant, but it is so important if you plan to hike the White Mountains. When looking at a peak you would like to conquer, consider the following: mileage, elevation gain (this is not the elevation of the summit, but instead the total elevation you will have to climb on the hike), terrain, and weather. Be sure to pack a map of the trail, as well as a compass (and learn how to use them!). You can pick up a White Mountain Guide through the Appalachian Mountain Club, which provides all of this information, and can give you a better idea of what to expect. Another great resource is through New England Waterfalls, which gives a chart comparing difficulty to how great the view is—perfect for beginners to choose their first 4,000-footer! Mountain Forecasts is a great resource as well for checking temperature, wind, and precipitation at the summit of each mountain, which you will need to know before you set out on the trail.
Know Your Limits and Build Up to the Big Summit
This relates to tip number one—once you research the hike you plan to do, you can then decide if you are ready. If you are beginner and you want to hike a difficult hike, I suggest trying a few easier hikes first and work your way up to the big one (like running, you can’t just start at a marathon, you need time to train). There are numerous clubs and meetups that bring beginner hikers together and help instruct you through the basics of hiking, so when the time comes to attempt your goal you are confident and ready for it. And, when looking at the mileage, if it seems like a lot for one day, look for campsites or huts to stay overnight and turn it into a backpacking trip!
Pack with an Attitude of Caution
A word of advice: Always pack essentials for any scenario you might encounter. At minimum, make sure you have plenty of water (two liters for a day hike, three if it’s in the summer), food, warm layers (it gets cold at the top, even in July and August), and a first aid kit. I always go with the attitude that if you have to ask, the answer is probably ‘yes.’ And if you are backpacking, be sure to make sure you pack enough water (or have opportunities to refill), and have an option for bear protection (provided bear boxes, bring your bear bag, stay in a cozy hut). A don’t forget your lucky hat!
Know When to Turn Back
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. You might be more tired than expected (which can be a recipe for injury), or the weather may change quickly, or maybe you are running out of daylight and can’t make the peak. Whatever the case, don’t ever be ashamed if you have to turn back—safety come first when hiking, and if you can’t make your goal that day, don’t worry, the mountains aren’t going anywhere and you can try again when you are ready.
They look cute, but these gray jays will steal your food!
Leave No Trace
Crowded trails means more wear and tear on the environment. For the case of preservation, hikers should practice the art of “Leave No Trace.” This includes everything from staying on the marked trails, to carrying out all the trash you bring in (including apple cores or banana peels, as those are not native to the White Mountains and could harm the ecosystem). And please, as tempting as it may be, do not feed the animals (especially those pesky gray jays!).
Consult an Expert
When in doubt, ask. You can consult with White Mountains National Forest rangers, or stop by the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center to chat with some local experts about what you need to do ahead of your hike.
Clearly the most important part of hiking. At no point should the experience be bad—sure, you might be sore after a day on the trail, but you trade that with the feeling of accomplishment and plenty of memories. And of course, a nice photo that you can be proud to show off. 😀