Addressing Dangerous Levels of Nature on Our Hiking Trails

Don’t let boulders and unimpressive vistas ruin your time outdoors

Every once in a while, you run across a letter to the editor that you wish you’d written. Here is one from the New Hampshire Union Leader from June 8.

To the Editor: My husband and I were hiking the Mount Jackson trail on May 27 with my son and family. We are veteran backpackers with 40 years of hiking experience. The trails in the White Mountains are a disgrace.

You have to negotiate boulders and, basically, hike rocky stream beds to gain the most meager vistas and distance. These trails are dangerous and limit safe use to only athletes. All hiking trails anywhere have potential hazards for the unprepared. But the Mount Jackson trail raises those hazards to unacceptable levels. The boulders should be reduced to proper steps and the last section should have hand holds for safety. Trail maintenance should be a state priority so that more residents of New Hampshire can enjoy the beautiful mountains without risking serious injury.

Mary Altz-Smith, Birmingham, Alabama

Nailed it! When “potential hazards” rise to “unacceptable levels,” action must be taken. First off, it’s hard to negotiate with big boulders. You can occasionally get the ear of a smaller one, sometimes show it the error of its ways and persuade it to move off the trail. But those big ones? Forget it. They flat out don’t care. You really have no alternative but to bust ’em up and replace them with flagstone steps.

And I, for one, favor a federal mandate that would more closely correlate trail difficulty and vista quality. Nothing is more frustrating that a long hike up a rocky streambed that ends at a “meager” vista. If it’s a couple hundred yards from the trailhead, I can make do with a skinny view. If I’m walking for hours, I expect something, dammit.

Finally, there’s the question of hand holds. I think the writer is exercising admirable restraint here. What she’d really like to see are handrails. But if there aren’t any naturally-occurring handrails—and all too frequently, mountains ignore this basic courtesy—the government should step in an install hand holds.

Don’t get the idea that I’m one of those people who expect all this to be done for me. I want to be part of the solution. That’s why I’m offering my personal hand to serve as the one from which dimensions are taken to create the necessary molds for the hand holds. The way I see it, it’s the least I can do.