The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.
Ah, yes…mud season in Wyoming!
When high winds and warming temperatures transform the snow and ice into muddy soup and pools of water. This time of year presents a special challenge not only for hikers, but also for the folks who maintain the trails.
If you enjoy hiking in the spring, it’s important to know how to safely navigate soggy trails without destroying them.
Hiking trails are particularly fragile during and immediately following the spring snowmelt. So in order to enjoy the outdoors responsibly during mud season it’s important to adhere to the principles of the “Leave No Trace” program.
Each hiker’s step tends to churn up mud and can set the stage for serious erosion. Therefore, spring hiking etiquette requires that hikers always walk in the center of the trail.
Although you may be tempted to walk along the sides of the trail to keep your feet dry, doing so loosens soil and makes the trail more susceptible to erosion.
And stick to the rocky terrain, wherever possible. This will help preserve not only the trail, but your footwear as well.
Slip Sliding Away
Proceed with caution. A muddy trail forces you to slow down and pay attention to each step. Even the toughest lug-soled hiking boots will provide little traction when caked with mud. So expect to hike more slowly than normal and plan a shorter hike than you would when trails are dry.
Many hikers find trekking poles to be especially helpful on wet trails. Not only do they keep you upright, but they can be used to probe the depths of whatever you’re stepping into.
But bear in mind that these poles can loosen soil and accelerate erosion. Fitting them with rubber tips will minimize their impact.
High-altitude trails can often pose an additional challenge, with deep icy ruts down the center of the trail. Traction aids, such as boot spikes, are especially helpful in these conditions.
Early spring is not the season for exploring lowlands or wetlands, nor is it the time to hike steep basins, where runoff-swollen streams pose a threat.
In the mountains, choose well-constructed, well-traveled routes that have been hardened for heavy use. Or follow a south-facing, rocky ridgeline trail, where there’s less mud and ice. For a description of three hiking trails within Grand Teton National Park, click here.
The Footwear Conundrum
Choosing footwear for spring hiking can be a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, waterproof boots that are six inches high won’t help when you step in an eight-inch puddle. On the other hand, knee-high rubber boots don’t usually provide the cushioning or support you need while hiking.
Gaiters are one option. They work in tandem with your boots to keep your feet dry in the cold spring mud.
Gaiters typically run from the bottom of your foot to mid-calf or up to the knee, covering the vulnerable tops of your footwear. You’ll need a heavy-duty pair for spring hiking.
You also could invest in a pair of knee-high waterproof socks and the kind of rubber-soled wading boots that are popular with anglers. With these, your feet will stay warm and you’ll get the kind of traction you need in muddy terrain.
Best of all, you’ll be able to comfortably walk in the center of the pathway, reducing your impact on these delicate natural ecosystems.