Sunday, December 4, 2022
Dec. 4, 2022

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Manners matter on busy trails

Learn how, when to yield to fellow outdoor enthusiasts

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BEND, Ore. — On a recent Saturday, my wife, Catherine, and I hiked up Tumalo Mountain, located directly across Cascades Lakes Highway from Mount Bachelor. It’s 2 miles to the top with a steady gain in altitude, a bit of a slog in my opinion, but with views that can’t be beat.

Unfortunately, neither could the crowd.

I should’ve known what we were in for. When we arrived at the Dutchman Flat parking lot around 11 a.m. — a late start by our standards — the lot was full, with some vehicles creatively parked where they shouldn’t have been.

On our second pass through the lot, we spotted a lone parking spot, never mind that we had to ask the cyclists standing in it to move. At first, given the many vehicles with bikes and bike racks present, I incorrectly assumed that there would not be corresponding foot traffic on the popular hiker-only trail up the mountain.

Then I asked a man returning to the parking lot if it was very crowded up top.

“It’s the most crowded I’ve ever seen the mountain,” he said.

Blech. I don’t know about you, but I don’t head to the mountains looking to rub elbows with strangers. I’ve never quite understood the popularity of Tumalo Mountain, other than its proximity to town. It’s steep, there’s not even a lake to swim in, and have I mentioned the crowds?

But as I later reflected, crowded trails are primarily a bummer due to poor trail etiquette. That is, good etiquette can go a long way toward assuaging the cons of crowded trails.

If the phrase “trail etiquette” means nothing to you, keep reading. Here’s the deal: When you’re hiking downhill, counterintuitive as it may be, etiquette dictates you step aside and let those heading uphill pass. For one, it reduces the risk of damaging or widening the trail as both parties trod off-track to pass.

For two, you have gravity on your side — the uphill hikers don’t.

For three, well, if you need a third reason, I assume you were on Tumalo Mountain that Saturday.

But wait, there’s more: On area trails that allow horses, hikes and bikes, such as Coyote Loop and Tumalo Creek trails, it goes like this: Bikes yield to horses and hikers. Hikers yield to horses. Horses yield to no one. (I mean, have you seen the size of these beasts?)

Also, where horses are involved, you should yield AND stay visible. A horseback rider once yelled at me because I yielded AND stepped so far off the trail that I faded into the forest a bit. Per the horse’s rider, it could have mistaken me of all people for a cougar or bear. (Side note: We really must stop using animals to describe dating proclivities.)

Etiquette is easy to overlook on trails, where encounters are over in a jiff. And yielding isn’t always crystal clear, nor is it always easy to practice. On our descent, there were a couple of times where someone going uphill had already stepped out of our path, or we met another party at a particularly narrow section that made yielding to uphill traffic awkward.

Nevertheless, we did our best to practice what we preach by pausing to let uphill hikers pass. Most didn’t acknowledge this consideration — but I drew the line at trying to practice my own good etiquette and saved the preaching for this piece.

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