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Hiking in California’s volatile weather

Muir Beach

Let’s be clear about this: the hiking weather in California is not only volatile right now, it’s absolutely bonkers. For those of you who may be missing it, California is currently going through a series of “atmospheric rivers” that are dumping feet of rain and snow all over the state. There have been mixed responses to these weather events. On the one hand, people are glad that their historic drought might be ending. On the other hand, there is so much moisture across the state that roads are being washed out and travel is becoming difficult.

So, the question on everyone’s minds is how is this going to impact spring and summer outdoor activities, including hiking? I see three issues: one, the weather seems to be harder to predict; two, a lot of trails need extra maintenance; and three, this much moisture leads to taller vegetation and more critters. Three solutions to these issues are: one, expect the unexpected; two, pitch in where you can; and three, know your flora and fauna.

Expect the unexpected

Muir Beach Road

Traveling through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area last week, there were areas that had been closed by the Park Service and roads that were impassable. The road to Muir Beach (above) was covered in a foot of water more than a day after one of the storms had passed. I can’t even imagine how much snow is covering California’s high points. The morning of my hike, the weather forecast called for clear skies. 4 hours later, I was hiking through pouring rain.

Sure, you could say that these things are to be expected during large, ongoing weather patterns. And you’re probably right. But for every single thing you are able to anticipate, there may be two more things that you have not anticipated. In this case, don’t be surprised by lack of access to services, or by the need to turn around. You would do well to bring a water purifier with you as well as cold weather or rainy weather gear on any outing lasting longer than a couple of hours. And check park websites for closures.

Pitch in where you can

Many of the state and national parks welcome volunteers and have forms online for you to fill out for a day or more of service. But, that doesn’t stop you from clearing small items from the trail as you go and being prepared with a small shovel or saw in the event that a mudslide or fallen tree has blocked your path. Additionally, you can report fallen trees and other obstacles to the local ranger station.

Hiking and camping “without a trace” has long been the standard of good outdoorsmanship. However, in times like these, we should each set out to make the trail and the campground better than it was when we arrived.

Know your flora and fauna

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is covered in poison oak, and all of this rain is just going to help it grow and creep into the trail. Luckily, the Park Conservancy has a guide for helping you avoid this itchy plant. Whether you’re hiking in the San Francisco area or elsewhere, please be aware of the plant and animal life of the area and how they may affect you.

Taller and bigger plants inevitably leads to healthier and more abundant animal life. And the more animals there are, the better the odds that you will ending up crossing paths with one of them. Whether they are bobcats, badgers, or mountain lions, you should be aware of the possibility that with increased numbers they are expanding their territory.

Volatile weather or not, this year can be a great year for hiking and camping if you are prepared. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite tips are for expecting the unexpected!

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Hiking the highest point in your state

Rainier Tipsoo

Hiking the highest point in your state is not for everyone. In fact, some people say that it takes the fun out of hiking. To be fair, hiking the highest points in certain states is not the easiest of tasks, especially if you live in Alaska. But, the fact that it can take some planning and can even take a little bit of the fun out of hiking doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Granted, for those of us that live in the West, that can be pretty tough. Here at River Country Products, the highest point in Washington is Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 feet, it is one of the most famous mountains in the United States. Sure, there are a lot of Colorado peaks that rival Mt. Rainier in total elevation, but none of them are close to it in prominence.

Mt. Rainier

If you’re thinking of hiking the highest point in your state, and you live in the West, here are some tips for making the most out of your climb.


First, take your physical fitness seriously. Climbing giant volcanoes and other similar large peaks requires a high level of physical fitness. You should exercise regularly prior to the ascent, including cardio, strength training, and endurance activities. You may also want to consider working with a personal trainer who can develop a program tailored to your specific needs.


Second, be aware that altitude sickness can be a serious concern when climbing any peak over 8,000 feet, so it is important to allow sufficient time for acclimatization. Consider spending several days at altitude during the weeks and days before attempting to summit and be prepared to adjust your itinerary based on your body’s response to altitude.


Third, proper gear is essential for a successful climb of major peak. This includes appropriate clothing for the cold and potentially wet conditions. It also may include a high-quality backpack, boots with crampons, an ice axe, rope, helmet, and other climbing gear. It is important to choose gear that is both comfortable and durable, and to test all gear before the climb.


Fourth, you should have experience with basic mountaineering skills. This includes roped travel, self-arrest techniques, and ice axe use in snowy conditions. Consider taking a mountaineering course or hiring a guide to teach you these skills and summit with you. (As a side note, around two people per year die on Mt. Rainier, but last time I checked none of them have been part of a licensed, guided group.)


Fifth, some of the highest points require a permit, which are usually obtained through the National Park Service. Sometimes this is a lottery process that happens months or even a year in advance of the hike, so check the requirements. You should also be familiar with the regulations and guidelines for climbing the mountain, including rules for waste disposal and camping.

Emergency Preparedness

Sixth, it is important to be prepared for emergencies. This includes carrying a first aid kit, emergency communication devices, GPS devices, and knowing how to respond to common mountaineering injuries and illnesses. Plain in advance: what are you going to do if you or one of your companions suffers a debilitating injury?

Mental Preparation

Finally, summiting a major peak can be physically and mentally demanding. To prepare for this, it is important to set realistic goals, maintain a positive attitude, and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary. If the weather changes before you summit, think safety first!

This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good place to start. What other tips would you add to the list? Comment below with your tips and let us know if you have summited the highest point in your state along with the name of the peak and the height.