I recently drove from beautiful Bend, Oregon, to Crater Lake National Park. My husband and I planned to arrive at Crater Lake quickly, toss up our tent, and find a visitor center to plan a few days of hiking. We had no idea that the road to Crater Lake was the scenic Rogue-Umpqua Highway, lined with towering old-growth forests and freckled with eight gorgeous, easy waterfall hikes.
What are two adventurers to do, when the unplanned presents itself so temptingly? Should they stick stiffly to original plans, or toss them over the edge of eight amazing waterfalls? Probably neither, and here is your guide for preparing for endless exploration of the unplanned.
Ability to take spontaneous excursions is more preparation than planning. The first step happens before the unknown has a chance to appear: leave a little wiggle room in your day’s schedule. With plans stacked back to back, it becomes hectic to suddenly change course.
Secondly, know your pace. Because we have built this habit, we knew that hiking to all eight waterfalls would allow us to set up camp in daylight. Our nerdy hiking algorithm is 2 miles per hour, adding 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The purpose is not to feel pressured, but to accurately anticipate how long any hike will take you. Even if never used spontaneously, this is a useful habit to form.
No matter how sudden the situation, be ready for the moment you are in. When starting down a trail late in the day, be certain that you have a light source and extra batteries. If the weather is uncertain, do not embark unless you have the gear to stay dry, warm, and safe.
So there you are, standing at a trailhead with time to enjoy your hike. Even if all other elements are perfectly prepared, gear can make or break the adventure. To make a versatile gear setup, build a collection of non-cotton layers that stack for different climates and activities. Typically, you need a tightly fitting base layer (usually wool or polyester), a sweater layer (about the thickness of a good fleece jacket), and an outer shell (able to block wind and water). In non-extreme circumstances, this combination allows you mix-and-match layers for every situation.
Next, add items fitting personal needs. Between a basic cold nature and my ever-annoying Raynaud’s syndrome, that translates into carrying along gloves, a beanie, and extra wool socks for me. Know yourself well, and pack accordingly. Lastly, make future-focused investments. Because my husband’s and my adventure would take us far north into the PNW, we decided to buy microspikes for traction on slick snow and glaciers. Without our spikes, we would not have been able to circumnavigate Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail so early in the season, or feel confident setting out on other snowy paths. Be sure the unplanned adventure ahead is one you can safely undertake with the gear you have. As a rule, if you do not have the 10 essentials, do not hit the trail.
The “Oh yeah...” Things
I can get so swept away in the excitement of something new that I forget to be as careful as I ought. First to slip my mind are the seemingly small checklist items; items that make you say “Oh yeah, that…” halfway down the trail.
My trip taught me to keep my cell phone and backup battery charged and ready for action. If I did not have a map of an area, I could then take a picture on my phone one at the trailhead. Even on short hikes, be sure you have a first aid kit with you. Always check yourself for the 10 essentials before hitting the trail, and be consistently vigilant about sneaky details.
Feeling ready? Once you are in the habit of preparing well, you can accept whatever your wandering throws your way! Embrace the trails and places that never made it on your day’s schedule. In my experience, some of those wild hairs became highlights of my trip.
Written by Erin Rain Gautier