Yesterday I set out for a solo 12 mile hike/run in the Sandwich Wilderness of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The foliage was at its peak, the temperature was crisp and cool, and the sky was a brilliant blue. We haven’t had many beautiful days this autumn, so I was eager to get on the trails.

I set out on Bear Brook River Trail towards Mt. Doublehead, Mt. Squam, and Mt. Percival, but I didn’t make it too far. When I’m hiking alone, I’m hyperaware of my surroundings. After only about 0.5 miles on Crawford Ridgepole Trail I made the tough decision to turn around. There were no other hikers, I was unfamiliar with the route, the blazes were few and faded, and a thick layer of leaves covered the trail. At 0.5 miles I had to stop and scan for signs of a trail for just too long. And I knew the descent would only be harder. I would be tired, the sun would be setting, there would be even fewer visible blazes, and the leaf-covered rocks would make for tricky footing. After allowing a minute or two to pout and be frustrated, I headed back down.

What I found most frustrating was A. I had driven 2.5 hours to hike and B. the number of fall foliage hiking days were dwindling. Luckily, I was able to come up with a compromise. Bear Brook River Trail and Crawford Ridgepole Trail are bisected by Sandwich Notch Road. Sandwich Notch Road is an old (established in 1801!) dirt road that cuts across the notch. Rather than heading straight back to my car and driving home, I decided to get some miles in jogging on the dirt road. And although it was viewless and a tad boring, the foliage was beautiful, and the air was delicious.

It did get me thinking, though. When should you “call it”? Obviously it varies depending on the situation, but based on this experience, I’ve whipped up a little list.

1. Food + Water

If you’re worried that you may not have enough food and/or water to complete the planned hike…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner.

2. Sunlight

If you’re not hiking quite as quickly as you expected, and your slower pace means that you’ll be finishing in the dark…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner. Unless, of course, you have a headlamp, and are a confident night hiker.

3. Navigation

If you’re having trouble following the trail for whatever reason (faded blazes, fallen trees, etc.)…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner.

4. Difficulty

If you’re struggling with the footing (ice, leaves, etc.) or the technicality (scrambles, ladders, etc.) of the trail…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner.

5. Exhaustion

If you’re tired…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner. Nothing good comes of hiking tired. But, ankle sprains, tumbles, and irritability sure do.

6. Instincts

If you just get that gut feeling that what you’re doing is not a good idea…come up with a shorter route, or turn back sooner. There’s probably some truth to what your instincts are telling you.

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