Staying safe in the woods

The backcountry trails of the Olympic Mountains still are covered with several feet of snow, but the lower trails are beckoning. Before heading out to hike, fish, camp, bicycle, climb, gather spring mushrooms or take pictures, review safety precautions, get your equipment (and yourself) in good shape and obtain updated information. Remember to tread lightly and leave only footprints. Here are some basics:

Things to take

The Mountaineers hiking and mountain climbing club lists 10 essentials for backcountry activities. They are a map, a compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra food and water, extra clothes, a headlamp or flashlight, a first-aid kit, fire starter, matches and a knife. This list often is supplemented with a water filter or chemical water treatment and water bottles, duct tape and basic sewing kit, insect protection, toilet paper and small trowel, signaling devices and emergency shelter. Cell phones often do not work in the mountains and should not be relied upon. Carry a whistle - it can be heard farther than a shout and takes far less energy. Hiking with a few others is safest and often the most fun.

Where to go

Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest comprise the majority of the land on the Olympic Peninsula. Information on recreation opportunities in the park and the forest is available from visitor centers in Sequim and Port Angeles, as well as from the park and forest headquarters and ranger stations. Pets are not allowed on most national park trails but can accompany hikers in the national forest. A leash will keep your dog from chasing after deer or other wildlife and possibly getting lost. Check on current regulations for the area where you plan to go.

Staying safe

Because the weather here can change quickly, it's especially important to get updated forecasts. The Olympics may get snow in any month of the year. It's also prudent to learn the condition of trails being considered and any warnings - these often include trail or bridge washouts, excessive blowdowns, cougar or bear activity. Guidebooks are useful but the information needs to be confirmed - winter storms may have changed familiar trails or made it necessary to move trailheads to new locations. High tides can trap hikers on the ocean trails, so check the tide tables before hiking on the beach.

Be sure to sign in and out at trailhead registers. Even day hikes can turn tragic and it's important for rescuers to know where to look for you if you do not return when expected. Make sure someone knows where you are going, when you expect to return and who to call if you don't return on time. The more information they have, the easier it will be for rescuers to find you - leaving a complete itinerary, boot prints pressed into aluminum foil, a description or picture of your tent, information or a picture of the clothing you are taking can save your life.

Sequim has one of the most beautiful backyards imaginable and it is fun to play in. With warmer weather coming, more people will be exploring the Olympics. Use the resources listed in the box to make sure your exploration is fun and safe.

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