Active outdoors: Awareness helps avoid spring booby traps

  • Both poles are 50 inches long. Don’t let the calendar fool you into thinking the snow is all gone. TIM JONES / photo

  • Yes, the waterfall is beautiful, but don’t miss those postholes in the deep snow. They can make your hike a lot harder than you thought it would be. TIM JONES / photo

  • TOP LEFT: Both poles are 50 inches long. Don’t let the calendar fool you into thinking the snow is all gone.TOP RIGHT: Snow and paddling go together very well if you dress for the cold water on a warm day. TIM JONES / photo

For the Monitor
Published: 4/15/2019 3:53:03 PM

At this time of year, it’s easy to get lulled into believing that spring is finally here. It has to get warmer, doesn’t it? Sure. Eventually. Some day. But in the meantime, winter can revisit us whenever it chooses. Like this week when it dropped eight inches of fresh snow on top of the more than two feet of snow that still covered my lawn and gardens. Hey, at least I don’t have to mow the grass.

Everyone loves to get outdoors in the spring, whether it’s to catch the last turns of what has been an epic winter or get a head start on the pastimes they will enjoy all summer. But spring can set booby traps for unsuspecting outdoors enthusiasts. Getting caught in them can be exhausting, uncomfortable, potentially dangerous and even deadly. Being aware of how those booby traps get set and sprung can help you avoid them while you have fun outdoors.

We all know about the unexpected snowstorms that can bubble up in the mountain in April and May. Those can make life interesting, but with today’s weather forecasting available in your pocket, they aren’t nearly the hazard they once were. Instead, it’s the subtle stuff that can bite you on the butt if you aren’t paying attention.

Not long ago, I was out for a quick late-afternoon backcountry ski outing. The day was warm and sunny – in fact, it was quite a bit warmer than the forecasts had predicted. As I was clicking in to my skis, a young couple came staggering out to the parking lot from a hiking trail. They’d started out in the morning when the snow was firm for what they assumed would be a short, easy hike. They didn’t have snowshoes but the walking had been easy on a trail that had been packed smooth by snowshoers and had frozen hard overnight.

They stopped for lunch on some warm, sunny ledges and, while they were eating, the sun had gone to work. By the time they started back down the trail, they were breaking through the crust and sinking crotch deep about every third step. No wonder they were sweaty and tired by the time they made it back to the car – about two hours later than they had planned.

That’s why many experienced hikers carry snowshoes at this time of year. You may not need them, but if you do, you really do.

Another booby trap comes in the form of flowing water. You hike out in the cool morning, cross a little trickle of water somewhere along the trail, and think nothing of it. But come afternoon when the sun has gone to work, that little trickle is suddenly a raging torrent and you have no way to cross it safely.

Awareness of not only what is around you and how it could change quickly is one of the keys to getting out and enjoying the outdoors at this time of year. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

Cold surprise

It happens almost every year at this time, somewhere in New England. We get one of these lovely warm afternoons and someone decides to go out paddling in the warm sunshine. Maybe it’s on a river, or a newly ice-free pond, or even on the ocean.

It feels like summer, so all they wear is a T-shirt and shorts. Because the law requires it, they put a PFD (life vest) somewhere in their canoe or kayak or on their SUP, but the sun is so nice and they aren’t going far, so they don’t feel any need to wear it.

Then, something goes wrong. The wind comes up, the waves build, the current is stronger than they expected, they hit a log or rock they didn’t see, and suddenly they are in ice water where survival time is often measure in minutes. One study in Canada found that the average cold-water drowning victim dies less than seven feet from safety.

If you are going paddling any time the water is cold and the air is warm, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. That means a wet suit and dry top or a full dry suit. And always wear a PFD, even in summer, even if you think you don’t need it.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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