Here’s how to hike safely during the rainy season

The Washington Trails Association shares tips for planning a rainy-day hike and staying safe while you’re on the trail.

  • Sunday, November 29, 2020 1:30am
  • Life
The Boulder River Trail in Arlington is a nice hike that can be done any time of year. Come in winter while the rain is dripping off the mossy trees, photograph the waterfalls and cross a few creeks lined by ferns. (Craig Romano)

The Boulder River Trail in Arlington is a nice hike that can be done any time of year. Come in winter while the rain is dripping off the mossy trees, photograph the waterfalls and cross a few creeks lined by ferns. (Craig Romano)

Washington Trails Association

Hiking in the rain. While it might not be your first choice, taking a rainy-day hike can offer solitude and a special ambiance, especially if you’re dressed to stay dry and warm. Below are tips for planning a rainy-day hike and staying safe while you’re on the trail.

Choose your hikes wisely. Hiker and contributor to Washington Trails magazine, Pam Roy, has this excellent advice for choosing a hike for a drizzly day: “Pick trails suitable for the weather and avoid exposed ridge walks or hikes involving scrambling over slick rocks. Think old-growth forests.”

Check the weather. There are no shortage of good online sources for mountain weather and road conditions.

For mountain forecasts, our favorite is the National Weather Service’s Mountain Forecast website. It gives detailed forecasts for both mountain passes and actual hiking destinations, and includes links to zone area forecasts for freezing/ snow levels.

Check your access roads. For road conditions, WSDOT has up-to-date mountain pass conditions, including cameras on five well-traveled routes. It is also wise to call ahead to the ranger station where you plan to hike or snowshoe to determine current conditions, especially the local roads where storms or fallen trees can shut off routes unexpectedly.

Take extra precautions. When hiking during or after very heavy rains, it’s a good idea to take a little extra caution and watch your footing around any steep drainages, along hillsides, some shorelines and on snowfields. Drainages around recent fire activity can be particularly unstable to mud and debris flows.

In winter, heavy rains could destabilize snow and increase avalanche danger. Be sure to check the mountains forecast page and the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center avalanche forecasts.

Rivers can also swell unexpectedly, even late in the season, so make sure to carefully assess any creek or river crossings.

If you see a landslide across a trail, let your local ranger station know. You can also report landslides to the Department of Natural Resources.

Wear the right clothing. You don’t need to buy a new wardrobe before you hit the trail, but you’ll need a few basics to stay safe and comfortable. You’ll probably get wet at some point while hiking in the rainy season, but using the tips below will help you stay warm and safe.

While you don’t need expensive or new gear to hike in the rain, avoid cotton when hiking in the rain: it’s a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Look for synthetic (like fleece) or wool materials instead, both of which are in abundance in thrift stores.

Base layer: If you’re hiking in colder weather, this might long thermal underwear tops and/or bottoms.

Warm, insulating layer: Do you have a fleece jacket? How about a comfy wool sweater? Both of these work great as an insulating layer that provides warmth if it gets chilly.

Waterproof/windproof layer: This includes both rain/wind jackets and hiking or rain pants. The jacket will keep you warm and dry on windy ridges and rainy days, and the pants will keep you warm and protected from brush and mud.

Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathability than cotton tube socks and protect them from blisters (particularly important on long hikes).

Tips for staying sure-footed

It sounds simple and easy. Hiking is basically walking, putting one foot in front of the other. But as fall turns to winter, and rain starts to make trails more slippery, remember that the ground isn’t flat, and a heavy pack can throw off your balance. Some trails pass right by steep cliffs. Snow may be slippery. Loose rocks on trail tread may shift unexpectedly.

You can’t control the environment, but there are ways to become more sure-footed when you hike.

■ It may seem silly to say, but watch where you are going. Washington’s stunning views have a way of distracting even the most adept hiker.

■ Keep your hands free by stashing or securing your camera, phone or GPS device while hiking.

■ When scrambling, check the stability of the rocks before you trust them with your weight.

■ Be aware of where you are standing. This is especially true when you are taking a photo or having a photo taken of you.

■ When putting on your pack, give yourself room to safely rebalance yourself.

■ Take extra care around cliff areas, especially when it’s been raining.

■ Don’t be afraid to turn around if the weather conditions change, you hit a rough patch in the trail or anyone in your hiking group gets tired.

■ Try trekking poles — these are great for helping you keep your balance on steep trails, circumventing obstacles and crossing streams and snowfields — though beware that having good balance on your own two feet is the most essential.

■ As fall turns to winter, consider bringing traction devices for your boots.

■ You can also improve your balance with basic conditioning exercises. Do the Daily Dozen, a set of hiking exercises from John Colver’s “Fit by Nature.”

Washington Trails Association promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.

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