Disgusting. Creepy. Disease-ridden. Nuisance. There is no end to the derogatory feelings we have about ticks. However, with a bit of awareness, preparation and vigilance, hiking in Washington's tick country can be incredibly awarding and enjoyable.
Tick prevention starts by covering up
Minimizing your exposure to ticks begins with your clothing. Ticks tend to latch on in grassy areas above the cuff of your pant-leg and move upward, looking for dark places to burrow. Here are a few tips for hikers:
- Wear pants and long sleeves -- no shorts! The best choice is convertible pants with a flap over the zippered legs -- this is an excellent tick trap.
- Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Wear light colors, so you can identify the ticks more easily as they climb.
- Don a cap with a flap behind the neck, if you have one.
There is a lot of discussion about tick repellents. Hikers report that DEET works great for mosquitoes, but not so well for ticks. Permethrin is a better choice for ticks; several brands of clothing are made with Permethrin-infused fabric, or you can buy a spray. Do note that these are pesticides and thoughtfully consider if and how you want to use them.
During and after your hike
Stick to the trail. Ticks like to hang out in shaded, grassy areas. Sticking to an established trail is good prevention, but certainly is not fool-proof. This is one more great reason to keep dogs, who are tick-magnets, on leash.
Tick check frequently. Hikers in tick country will want to do regular tick checks during the day. Brush those bad boys off or crush them between your fingers, but don't worry that they are going to burrow in immediately. Ticks like to cruise around for awhile before they take a bite.
Post-hike tick check. After your hike you'll want to do a thorough check. One hiker we know changes into a complete set of new clothes back at the trailhead. She puts all of her hiking clothes in a garbage bag and seals it, then does a full body check. Favorite tick burrowing sites include the scalp, waist and other dark places where they can hide.
Back home, take a shower. Consider filling up a bathtub or washbasin and tossing in your hiking clothes. Ticks will float up to the surface. Crush them or flush them down the toilet; note that they can survive a wash and rinse cycle.
Check your backpack. Don't forget to give your backpack a full check too. Leave it outside rather bringing it in your home.
Tick First-Aid: five steps to remove a tick
If a tick has found a place to burrow in on your body, don't panic. Chances are very slim that you will end up with Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The Pacific Northwest is a "low risk" area for Lyme and spotted fever is extremely rare. But you do want to get the tick out quickly and completely.
How to check for and remove ticks on your dog
If you hike with a dog in tick country, prevention and tick checks should be a regular part of your routine.
- Talk to your vet about preventative medications.
- Find out how to do a thorough tick check of your dog and get tips for removal.
Follow these five steps for the best way to remove a tick:
- Use an antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area around the tick.
- Grasp the tick with tweezers (or fingers) as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull straight and steady. Do not twist or yank. You do not want to leave the tick's head and legs under the skin.
- If parts do remain under the skin, pinch the skin up and try to scrape the remains away. Use a sterilized needle if you have to dig anything out.
- After you finish, use another antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area.
If you are concerned about disease, save the tick for testing in case you get sick. Watch for symptoms of rash or fever, and if you have concerns, visit your doctor.
The Spokane Regional Health District has an excellent one-pager that covers most of the content in this blog.
You can also send your ticks to the Washington Department of Health for study.
Hikes with known tick issues
Some hikes require extra tick-prevention measures. Don't let ticks scare you off from the wildflowers or other great springtime wonders, but do be careful and read recent Trip Reports to see if ticks have been spotted in the area.
- Columbia River Gorge: Lyle Cherry Orchard, Columbia Hills State Park
- Central Washington: Umtanum Canyon and Ridge, Yakima Skyline
- Eastern Washington: Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (in spring)
The avalanche tragedies near Snoqulamie Pass last weekend were a tough reminder that springtime in the Northwest is a tricky season for hikers and snowshoers. Because temperatures fluctuate so dramatically, dangers from avalanches can increase quickly around this time. But that doesn't mean you can't find a great, safe hike.
Below are strategies for navigating the hazards of springtime hiking and some examples of the type of trails best avoided this time of year.
Research conditions and go prepared
- Call ahead to ranger stations and check WTA trip reports for current conditions, remembering that trip reports are hiker-generated, and all hikers have different skills and experience.
- Check the National Weather Service's mountains forecast page and the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center avalanche forecasts. If you're not sure how to read the snow levels along Snoqualmie or other destinations, just pick a hike that's sure to be snow-free.
- Rapidly-changing weather, lingering snow, rain, rising rivers, mud, blown-down trees and bad roads are all potential spring hiking hazards. Learn how to handle them.
- When trails are obscured by snow, it's easy to lose your way. Unless you're adept with off-trail travel with map and compass, it's usually a good idea to turn back at snow line.
- Every hiking party should carry the Ten Essentials, including maps, a compass and a refreshed First Aid kit. Throw in some extra clothing (especially rain gear) and extra food and water.
Trails to save for summer: avoid avalanche dangers
If you're not an expert at reading avalanche risk factors or snowfield conditions, call or visit a local ranger station to find out if the trail or route you want to take is prone to avalanches or other kinds of hazards. Many trails that are easy day hikes in summer can be deadly in winter or spring, including the following trails:
- Granite Mountain: This snowshoe can be a tempting choice because it's so close to Seattle, but the trail crosses a known avalanche chute, so it's best avoided this time of year.
- Big Four Ice Caves: Winter, summer, spring or fall, it is never safe to enter an ice cave, no matter how stable they might seem. In addition to spontaneous collapse, there is high risk in winter from avalanches off the mountain that feeds these caves.
- Lake 22: A great day hike in summer, it can be avalanche prone in winter. It's best to wait until the snow is melted on this popular Mountain Loop Highway trail.
- Mount Dickerman: The steep, sheer cliffs at the top of this trail offer stunning views in summer, but can pose dangers to hikers punching through features like cornices and thawing ice bridges in winter and spring.
- Snow Lake and Source Lake are both Snoqualmie corridor snowshoes with the potential for considerable avalanche dangers depending on conditions.
- Mount Pilchuck: Snow lingers later than you might think (into June) on this popular trail, leading to injuries every season, most often from hikers punching through snow and ice bridges covering large boulders near the top. If you want to beat the crowds on this popular hike, don't feel like you need to rush the season. Just tackle it on an early summer morning in July or August.
- Iron Goat Trail: A rail trail close to Stevens Pass, this trail is lined with avalanche chutes. Take a walk along this one only once the avalanche danger is low or the snow is gone completely.
These trails are just examples what to beware of this time of year. When in doubt, ask a ranger or choose from one of the great snow-free hikes below.
Hike these snow-free hikes instead
Is there still snow on trail? In Washington state, hikers may be asking that question well into July.
While you wait for the high country to melt, explore the many other wonders, from waterfalls to wildflowers, of Washington hiking.
- Follow the wildflowers. Head towards Yakima or south to Coyote Wall and Horsethief Butte in Columbia Hills State Park along the Columbia River Gorge.
- Try one of these seasonal suggestions.
- Check trip reports for more great hike ideas and file your own trip reports. We're safer when we work together.
Twenty-three year-old hiker Mary Owen was rescued from the slopes of Mount Hood over the weekend, after having been stranded on the mountain for six days. Owen's rescue is a good reminder: every level of hiker needs to get in the habit of filing a detailed trip itinerary before setting out—and a new iPhone app developed by local hikers may just make that easier to do.
"You need to let somebody know where you are going..."
Owen, a hiker who thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, got into trouble when whiteout conditions below the summit forced her to turn around. After injuring her leg in a fall, she knew she needed to stay put. She built a snow cave and waited for her overdue return to trigger a rescue. Even though Owen had taken the prudent steps of registering her trip and emailing her friends about her plans, limited information about her location was one reason it took several days for a rescue effort to get underway.
"It doesn't matter if you're climbing Mount Everest or Mount Hood or on a day hike in Washington Park." Steve Rollins, the rescue leader for Portland Mountain Rescue told The Oregonian, "You need to let somebody know where you are going and when you will return."
File an itinerary before hiking
Filing a detailed trip itinerary with family and friends and signing in a trailhead registers (or filing the proper permits) before setting out on a hike or climb is one of the most important ways to stay safe in the backcountry. A good trip itinerary also includes your backup plan for any trails you may hike if you change your mind at the trailhead.
New app sends automatic alerts if you don't check in on time
Thanks to two Seattle-based hikers, there is a new tool to augment your hiking precautions: a free mobile app that sends personalized, automated notifications to your emergency contacts if you don't check in on time from a hike or other outdoor activity.
The app sends your contacts details about your activity, your profile information, and instructions on what action they should take to ensure you are safe.
For now, the app is only available for iPhone users. It was created by Inti, Inc., a Seattle-based company co-founded by Steve Grind and Matt Witcher, two outdoor enthusiasts who solicited input from Search and Rescue professionals, guides and outdoor instructors.
“We’re outside or traveling all the time,” says Grind. “We always found ourselves wishing we had an easy way to tell people about our plans. It's a terrible feeling to find yourself out hiking after dark and to suddenly realize that nobody knows where you are or when they should start looking for you if you got lost or hurt. We created this as much for ourselves as we did for you.”
Learn more www.GoBugle.com or download the app now.
Share your favorite hiking apps and itinerary tips
- Try out the Bugle app and let us know what you think.
- Have another app you can't do without while hiking? Tell us about it.
- Share your experience about when you were glad you filed an itinerary.
Learn the basics of avalanche safety while meandering in the Commonwealth Basin at Snoqualmie Pass on one of two upcoming guided snowshoe walks. Snowshoes are provided, and the walks will be led by avalanche safety instructors from Friends of the Avalanche Center and the U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers.
Reserve a spot on the March 24 walks
The two walks on March 24 leave at 10:30 a.m and 12:30 p.m. Space is limited on the walks, so if you want in, you'll need to make a reservation.
To reserve a spot, call the Forest Service Visitor Information Center at 425-434-6111. A $15 per person donation is suggested to offset the cost of the program.
Dress to stay warm and dry
Wildflowers may be starting to bloom in the lowlands, but it is still winter in the mountains. Whether you you make one of the snowshoe walks or are planning a snowshoe adventure of your own, make sure to dress for cold winter weather.
Wear a waterproof outer layer, including a hat, and gloves. Dress in warm layers under your waterproof outer layer, and wear sturdy, waterproof boots.
More snowshoe and winter safety resources
Traveling safely across snow is an essential skill for many hikers and climbers—even in the spring and early summer months. Use the following tips from author and mountaineering educator Mike Zawaski to travel more safety across snow fields in Washington—which can linger long into summer.
If you want to learn even more about kicking steps, crampons, ice-axes and hiking over snow, you can buy Zawaski's new book, Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow, from Mountaineers Press.
Snow travel: a good skill to add to your backpack
- A snowy pass can provide a significant and dangerous obstacle for the unprepared hiker traveling in the high country. Even if you don't aspire to climbing peaks, it is definitely worth your time to learn how to kick good steps and travel with an ice ax.
Hiking on snow can reduce your impact
- Having the confidence to travel on snow allows you reduce your impact by walking on snow instead of around it, a practice which can create additional trails and destroy vegetation.
Travel on firm snow reduces risk from avalanches
- Late spring and early summer can be a great time to climb snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard. Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For east-facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.
Look ahead to spot hazardous transition zones
- Common places where falls occur are transition zones. These are places where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique. Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.
How to kick steps in snow
- Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem. The two tips I commonly offer are to 1.) choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you're worried about falling) and 2.) not to tiptoe around when kicking hard-firm snow.
Old footsteps can be icy: you may be better kicking your own steps
- Beware of following an old set of footsteps across a snowy slope. These may be very icy, especially on a cold morning. If you are proficient kicking steps you are much more likely to find a better route or travel more safely across pre-existing steps.
Getting technical: crampons, ice axes and rope teams
- While ski poles or trekking poles may help you maintain balance while kicking steps across a slope, an ice ax is superior for helping you self-arrest if you fall. Self-arresting with ski poles is possible, but it is much more difficult and you will slide further than if you are using an ice ax.
Crampons: only to be used on firm snow and ice
- Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice. The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall.
To learn more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending on snow, check out Mike Zawaski's Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow.
Winter is the ideal time to assess your hiking equipment. I clean my backpacking stove, fluff up my sleeping bag and waterproof my boots during these short days and long nights. Last weekend, I took up another of these projects: restocking my First Aid kit.
Every hiker should carry a First Aid kit. You never know when you might trip and skin your knee, develop a blister - or worse. And once you have a kit, you need to keep it up-to-date - modifying it to fit your outing, the members of your hiking party and replenishing its stores after they are used.
WTA has a great online resource describing how to build your own First Aid kit, with a fairly comprehensive list of basic supplies to include. Because I didn't want to deal with buying 50 sterile dressing pads only to include four in my kit, I chose to purchase a pre-package kit (available at most outdoor outlets) and supplement it with extra items my family needs on a hike. Since I have small kids, I've added Children's Tylenol and an instant cold pack to the mix. I swapped out the Moleskin for Second Skin, my blister treatment of choice.
During the inspection of my kit last weekend I discovered that we were entirely out of large Band-Aids, the antiseptic towlettes had gone dry and the hydrocortisone cream had expired. One trip to the drug store later, I have a First Aid kit that I can count on in an emergency - or more likely, during a small mishap on the trail.
What's your go-to item in your First Aid kit?
Wish you had a better grasp of map and compass when you're hiking? You're not alone.
Back in September, we asked our Facebook community which set of trail skills they'd most like to improve. Turns out, navigation and orienteering topped a lot of lists.
That's when Rebecca Jensen of the Cascade Orienteering Club offered to host a hands-on class for WTA supporters in Redmond on Jan. 12 that focuses on basic navigational skills.
A fun way to learn to use a map and compass
The four hour class will be tailored to hikers who want to feel more confident about their navigational skills on trail. You'll learn to orient yourself, so that you always know where you are and what you're looking at. You'll learn how to turn navigation into a skill that can enrich your entire hiking experience (not just help you when you get lost).
The class runs 9 a.m - 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan 12. It will be held in Farrel-McWhiter Park in Redmond.
Additional class details: Half of the class time will be in the classroom, the other half will be outside (so dress to stay warm). If you have a compass, bring it. If not, no worries: the Cascade Orienteering Club will have some you can borrow.
WTA's Julie Cassata took a class from Jensen this year, and here's what she had to say about the experience: "Rebecca is an excellent teacher. She emphasizes that orienteering is not about compass magic, but about relating the map to your surroundings, which is really fun."
Other skills courses
While it's almost time for most bears to tuck into their dens for winter (except in some coastal areas, where bears may not hibernate), autumn can still be a pretty active time for Washington black bears. These furry omnivores can forage as many as 20 hours a day as they store up for winter, so it never hurts to refresh your skills for hiking in bear country.
Find out how to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. (Hint: if you see the bear in Washington state, it's probably a black bear, even if it's brown.)
Refresh your skills for avoiding encounters:
- Make noise by singing or clapping your hands while in bear country, and especially around streams and blind corners. (The goal is to avoid surprise encounters.)
- Hike in small groups during daylight hours.
- Keep a clean camp and hang a bear bag (if you plan to overnight).
Learn what to do if you do encounter a bear:
- Do not look the bear in the eye; this can be perceived as a challenge and a sign of dominance.
- Never turn your back to a bear; if safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and give the bear as much space as possible.
- If you are hiking with small children, pick them up (so they do not run, scream or panic).
- Talk calmly and quietly so the bear can identify you as a human, and do your best to diffuse the situation.
Photographing a bear:
- Follow good Leave No Trace principles and observe bears from a safe distance. If you encounter a bear on trail, put some distance between you and the bear before pulling out your camera.
- Use a powerful telephoto lens for capturing your close-ups.
- Try to keep extra distance when photographing bears during sensitive times (like when they have young cubs).
Tell us your bear story
Did you see any bears while you were hiking this year? Tell us about it in the comments section (or share the link to your Trip Report).
*Some of the tips above adapted from the Washington Trails magazine January + February 2012 article, "Bear in Mind", written by Tami Asars and the September + October 2011 article "Wolves and Grizzlies," written by Eric Neumann.
After almost a full month of fighting fires sparked by a lightning storm on Sept. 8, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest officials and fire managers have contained a majority of the wildfires. They are also opening areas that had been closed, including opening some hiking trails around Leavenworth and on the west side of Blewett Pass.
Below are some of the change details officials announced on Oct. 8:
Cashmere Mountain Fire, Alpine Lakes Wilderness - The area closure surrounding the 2609-acre Cashmere Mountain Fire in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area about 5 miles southwest of Leavenworth has been scaled back along the western edge of the closure area. This change opens the Trout Creek Trail; and approximately a 2.5 mile section of the Eightmile-Troutcreek trail #1554 is open from Trout Lake to Windy Pass. The remainder of the #1554 trail remains closed.
The Jack Creek trail #1558 is also open to public use, and campgrounds along Icicle River Road are also open.
This closure area still includes Eightmile Road, Colchuck, Stuart, Eightmile, and Caroline lakes portion of the Enchantment area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness due to a fire. Many Enchantment area overnight camping permits are cancelled. However, the Enchantment Basin itself remains open at this time with access via Snow Creek Trail.
Please call the Wenatchee River Ranger Station for more information on which permits are cancelled.
Klone and Pyramid Fire Closure Area Description - The large closure area has been reduced and national forest system lands south and east of the FS #5900 Shady Pass road and Middle Tommy Creek Trail #1424 south are now open. National forest systems lands north and west of the #5900 Road, and Middle Tommy Creek Trail #1424 to the Glacier Peak Wilderness Boundary are closed to public access. The Lake and Fox Creek Campground on the Entiat River Road will be open for public use. However, the main #51 Entiat River road beyond Lake Creek Campground will remain closed.
Trail closures remain in effect for the French Cabin FS trail #1307 and Kachess Ridge trail #1315 from Knox Creek Junction to the saddle that drops into Silver Creek, north of the town of Easton.
Naches Ranger District - trail closures remain in effect for in the Gold Hill area of the William O. Douglas Wilderness area and Kettle Creek of the Norse Peak Wilderness Area.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest – While the Cascade Creek fire has largely been contained, other fires have flared up in the area. Closures include Forest Road 21 from US 12 to and including FR 2130 and spurs. South Point Lookout Trail #123 is closed.
The Mt. Adams Wilderness also remains closed along with the adjacent national forest areas north of the forest border, west of the Yakima Reservation, east of FR 23/2329 and south of FR 5603.
Fire danger remains high, check before you hike
Conditions continue to be dry and many fire bans remain in place. Officials think it will take a season ending rain or snow event to fully suppress all the fires.
WTA and forest officials recommend checking in with ranger districts to get the latest information on closure areas.
Forest service officials are keeping Olympic National Forest’s Mount Ellinor Trail closed while they continue to monitor and address mountain goat-human interactions. The trail was closed as a precautionary measure to ensure public safety in July when four separate hiking parties reported encounters with aggressive mountain goats. Before they consider opening the popular trail, forest officials are implementing an aversive conditioning plan designed to discourage the goats from approaching people.
Monitoring, retraining Mount Ellinor goats
Officials say the goats near the trail have grown habituated to people and are inappropriately assertive in their efforts to obtain food and salt from humans. Up to twenty goats have been observed in the area, including seven kids.
Wildlife specialists from Olympic National Forest have been working closely with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympic National Park, and mountain goat experts to monitor the situation and determine appropriate actions. While their goal is to reopen the popular trail as soon as possible, public safety remains their first consideration.
“We will reopen the trail as soon as it is safe but we need to give our strategy time to work," said Acting Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams. "People need to become a part of the solution and not the problem; they can do this by not feeding the goats or allowing them to lick salt from their skin or backpacks.”
Officials are working on managing the human-mountain goat conflicts by looking at goat numbers, distribution, and behavior. They have also implemented an aversive conditioning plan designed to discourage the goats from approaching people.
“Co-existence is a two-way street. We want people to keep the goats wild. The goats also need to be taught to respect our personal space and not to approach people,” McAdams said.
Encountering mountain goats on trail
If you only remember two guidelines around mountain goats, remember the 50/50 rule:
- Hikers should urinate at least 50 feet off the trail, preferably on rocks. The animals' attraction to the salt in human urine can bring goats closer to trails (and the hikers on them) than is good for either species.
- Try to stay 50 yards (or about 150 feet) away from mountain goats at all times. For photographers, this means using a telephoto lens to snap your shots. Never try to approach or pet kid (young) mountain goats. No matter how cute they are, mountain goats are still wild animals. It's up to hikers to give the goats a wide berth, even if they are standing close to, or even in, the trail. If the trail doesn't permit you to go around, consider turning back early.