Hiking isn’t like walking in the city. In the city, you’re just trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible while avoiding eye contact at all times. Sometimes people bump into each other, sometimes they step in dog poop, sometimes they accidentally meet another person’s eyes, for a moment. But out here, this is the wilderness.
So here we are, in Yosemite National Park. It’s a sunny and gorgeous Monday, and we’re walking down a popular trail. We quickly come up behind an older couple; the woman is straggling behind. I watch her steps and I can tell that each one is shaky. She’s stumbling and slipping and it seems like she’s moving faster than she really wants to. I motion Paul to back off, so we’re not pressuring her, then we look for good places to pass. I try to pass two, three times, but it’s like she’s got eyes in the back of her head – she’s always veering right in front of me, blocking my pass, even when I chose the more difficult route. OK, on to the next technique: we start talking loudly to each other, to cue a stop-and-pass, but that also doesn’t work. Eventually, the trail widens a little more and we make our break, passing on the left. Just then, the woman slips. She tumbles down the rock; I watch as she bashes her elbow against the granite and then gets a bunch of dirt in the nasty scrape, rolling and then bouncing hard off the ground on her hip. Her husband rushes back, and she says she’s fine, but I feel terrible. Did I make her fall? Is she sitting in her car right now, crying and feeling depressed?
Hadn’t she read the widely-publicized list of Lisa’s Trail Etiquette for Everyone?
Just in case, here are a few pieces of hiking etiquette that I’ve formulated over the past ten months of intensive trail-walking. Unlike my rules for walking in Las Vegas, these are serious. If you disagree with any of the following, or if you think I’ve missed something, add a comment!
1. Know your limits.
This is the most important rule of all. If you push yourself too hard, you risk hurting not only yourself, but others as well. There are endless stories of rescuers who were hurt or even killed saving those who weren’t well prepared, those who didn’t pay attention to the weather, or those who were just plain stupid. Hurt yourself, but don’t hurt others. This goes for your kids too: don’t make them go on a hike that they can’t physically handle. I don’t want to hear them whining.
2. Be open to passes.
There are two kinds of passes – passes from behind and oncoming passes. Watch for both. Everybody gets passed.
A. Passes from behind.
Pay attention to what’s going on behind you. If you notice that people are coming up at a quicker pace, let them pass. You’ve got two options, either:
i: Do the stop-and-pass. Stop and step to the side, pretending you need a break or are checking out the view. Do not say something bitchily sarcastic like: “Oh, let me just get out of your way” or, “Merle, move and let these young people pass. They’re so much faster than us old fogies.” There’s no way for the passer to politely respond to a comment like this. As a passer, you should always say hello and thanks or excuse me.
ii: Do the walking pass. Move to the right side of the trail, single file, and let the person walk by you as you keep moving. If they hesitate, glance back to let them know you’re letting them pass. As a passer, you should also say hello and thanks or excuse me.
Side note: I haven’t been able to figure out how to force a pass when people are too stubborn to stop or move aside. Usually we just scramble around them or wait until they finally stop, walking slowly and awkwardly behind them. Waiting is the worst. We’ll try talking loudly, or kicking the ground a bit to make people aware of our presence. I’ve heard other people say “can I pass?” or “passing,” but I think that’s kind of rude. I’m open to suggestions.
B. Oncoming passes.
When you meet an oncoming group, the general advice is to yield to that group. But we all know what happens when both people try to yield or not yield…that awkward dance-y thing or lots of shoulder bumping. So here’s how I think oncoming passes should be handled: If the trail is wider than single-file, just move to the side (single-file) and keep walking. If the trail is only single-file, yield to the person coming uphill. If they stop, the downhill person should keep moving and say thanks or excuse me. If the uphill person doesn’t stop, the downhill person should stop. When in doubt, move aside first to avoid the awkwardness.
Side note: If you’re in a large group and it’s just too hard to go single-file, at least make sure there’s enough space for the oncoming people to stop or pass without falling over the edge of the cliff.
3. If you’re taking a break, move off the trail.
No pitching tents in the trail. No lunch breaks in the trail. Would you take a break in the middle of the road?
4. If you have kids, restrain them. By any means necessary.
Don’t let your kids run on ahead. This is for their own safety. They might get eaten by a mountain lion, or a bear, or a serial killer. Seriously, they might annoy someone else so much that that person might decide to accidentally group-bump them over the edge of the cliff into Yosemite valley. You never know. Best to keep them close.
5. And be quiet.
Your voice travels like crazy. I don’t care about anything you have to say. I don’t care if your kid thinks he’s the king of the world. Shh. Unless you’re trying to queue up a pass from behind.
6. Pick up your trash. And bury your poop.
Snickers wrappers in Zion? I don’t think so. Toilet paper in Yellowstone? No. If you’re a woman and you’ve got to go on a day hike, tuck the paper into your undies band. Seriously, it’s not that gross. Fold the “used” section into the middle of the wad and shove it in your undies wasteband. Throw it out when you find a garbage can or a toilet. Or bring along a baggie for this purpose.
If you are the person who needed to do a number two on the trail and had no toilet paper, I am so sorry for you. I am really sorry that you had to wipe with your socks or bandana — really, I feel your pain. But just like you don’t leave your paper out there, you DO NOT leave your poopy socks in a Death Valley wash or your shitty bandana along the Washington coast. And you don’t leave your poop unburied. Other people see these things, you know. Suck it up and carry the paper/bandana out. It’s for the good of humanity. You have no idea how long that shit sticks around.
7. Acknowledge your fellow hikers.
In the city, it’s taboo to say hi to someone on the street. But you’re not in LA right now, remember? You’re in Yosemite! You don’t need to say hi, hello, good morning, etc., to everyone you pass, but you should at least acknowledge them with a grunt, a smile, or a nod. Hiking people are much friendlier than city people. Join us.
It’s also good manners to warn fellow hikers of any rattlesnakes/deadly things on the trail ahead. That is, as long as they don’t have screaming children in tow.
8. Don’t beep-beep in the parking lot.
You know, chirp, beep-beep, whatever your car does when you push the lock button. You don’t get to use the lock button in the wilderness. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Use the key like you did four years ago. Nobody wants to hear you lock your car out here, particularly that herd of stampeding buffalo right behind you.
But wait, here’s the funny thing about etiquette: everyone has their own slightly different set of rules, and you can’t make anyone else understand and follow yours without seeming like a total ass. So I guess I’m just writing this to vent my frustration, and hopefully inform at least one other would-be offender. Good luck out there.