In the spring months of the year, the accumulated precipitation begins to melt as the suns rays heat the earth, causing hiking trails to become fraught with excess moisture. This cumulative effect is commonly known to practitioners as the mud season. Due to the dangers possible with trails full of slippery mud, many parks close their trails to hikers for safety reasons. But there are some places that also stay open all year, and these are the ones that most hikers will opt to brave the elements and go on a long commune with nature.
But there are many dangers that should be prepared for since these are more than likely to occur during this season of changing terrain. A trailhead that is dry at first often turns to mud, then absolute slop the further up the trail that a hiker will climb. This can lead to potentially unsafe conditions, as traction is moderate at best, and the chances of a fall increase significantly. There is also the chance of falling rocks due to the freeze-thaw cycle that normally occurs during the colder months. Cracks are enlarged and the forces holding them are significantly weakened.
It is probably a good idea to keep to the lower grounds where the trail is flat and level at least during the early spring months where upper elevations can be dangerous. These are typically found in the forest areas, where trees tend to soak up any excess moisture that may be present.
Hiking is a great activity, but it should be exercised with extreme caution during this time — especially when encountering rocks. This includes scrambles, walls and the various outcroppings that may be encountered along the trail. It is very important to constantly evaluate the path ahead before continuing on, since conditions may go from ok to poor in a matter of minutes. This is important since an accident can be avoided with the proper planning. Any kind of mud may slow down an expedition enough so that reaching the rendezvous point may become too difficult to complete. When conditions are not favorable, it is probably wise for even the most experienced of hikers to choose an alternate route.
During this time, with the high volume of water flow and mud that is created, the environment itself becomes extremely vulnerable. The danger of mud slides aside, there is a great deal of erosion as well, since soil has not been stabilized by the increased growth of plants. They are in their infancy with immature roots systems, and hikers would do well to avoid trampling any vegetation at this time.
Foot traffic will also leave major damage to the soft trail at this time which will require a great deal of repair later on during the year. This is why many parks will put down a bed of wood mulch on the more well-traveled trails to ensure the safety of hikers. Sometimes this is accomplished by Mother Nature herself, as a large grove of pine trees will produce the necessary amount of pine needles to produce a safe track for hikers.
When attempting to navigate these trails during the spring season, it is vital to have the proper gear. While it is very similar to most other times, there are a few exceptions that should be made in order to safely traverse the trail and make the hike more enjoyable. This includes such things as long pants, thick socks, and trekking poles that will provide an additional source of traction along with the sturdy hiking boots. Of course a heavier, waterproof jacket or poncho is a great idea in case the skies begin to open up. A good amount of rations and water should also be a major part of the expedition. And of course the emergency items: blanket, bandages, flashlight, crank radio, first aid cream, and possible a cellular phone, are great to have along as well. Finally a multi-tool that can provide a myriad of uses can replace many items and help to lighten the load.
It takes proper planning to negotiate a trail safely during the mud season, but with extra care, this can still be a fun and rewarding activity.