Note from the Editor: The author is sharing what she learned while hiking in mud season in Montana. Even though this article is specifically about mud season, there’s tips in there that would help with any season as well. Such as proper footwear, gear, food, and wildlife. Also, watch out for ice especially in shaded areas where the snow might have melted during the day than turned to ice overnight.
Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
The snow is starting to melt and although you may be bummed that ski season is coming to an end, another season is beginning. Mud season. The time in early spring when you can finally start to make your way by foot into the mountains. Depending on where you are going and what trail you are taking, it also means it is going to make the trails muddy. Moreover, if you are anything like myself, you may find yourself filled to the brim with excitement of the thought of “peaking” your first big mountain. On the other hand, you may also find yourself lacking in knowledge of what you might need on the mountain during mud season. Spring is a great time to get into the mountains but there are a few things to consider relative to gear, trail conditions, and even wildlife before making your way into the great outdoors.
First things first, evaluate the trail you’re taking.
Are you staying in the valley or are you heading to the top, AKA, “peaking”? If it’s the latter and you are anywhere west of the Mississippi, then you’re going to need to plan for snow. If you have already asked around about what you need, some may have suggested to you a pair of waterproof pants. To clarify, no you don’t need waterproof pants as some extreme folks will suggest. However, you do need to make sure that you are wearing proper footwear. The last thing you want is to be on top of the mountain with soaking wet feet in 40-50 degree fahrenheit weather. Odds are you will encounter snow anywhere from six inches to several feet deep. Whether that means snow shoes or hiking boots will vary depending on the trail and recent weather. It is always a good idea to check the weather report over the upcoming days and some trail websites even keep up-to-date trail conditions which will provide you a proper sense of what you may encounter. As always, use your own judgement and plan accordingly.
As far as other gear is concerned, you are going to want to bring a backpack.
Whether or not you want to buy a brand new Osprey is up to you. Personally, I managed to get by just fine with a standard school day pack for trails up to seven or eight miles. Admittedly it was not always the most comfortable pack; therefore, if you are looking for comfort on the trail I would suggest getting a pack that is properly fitted and provides adequate support. As always, you need to bring water. You may not realize you are thirsty because it’s not particularly hot out, but it is always a good idea to bring more than you think you will need. Aside from water you are also going to need to bring snacks! Hiking an eight mile trail up a mountain is not the same as going on a similar length run. Your body is working overtime scaling up the trail and you need to make sure to give it the fuel it needs. Trail Mix gets its name for a reason. Another popular trail snack is meal bars. Obviously, some foods are easier to transport than others and weight is a factor. Consider your options and make the choice that is best for you and your situation.
The wildlife in snow season is also something to be aware of.
It’s that time of year when animals are coming out of hibernation. Unsurprisingly when they wake, they are hungry, slightly disoriented, and probably not expecting to run into you. Depending on where you are going, you may not have to worry too much about the local wildlife beyond the occasional black bear or bobcat. But if you’re headed to the not-so-populated intermountain west, you will have some other bigger players to contend with like the grizzly bear. Mud season coincides with bear season and you need to be prepared. As always never hike alone and make sure to bring bear spray with you in the event that you cross paths. Even still, some choose to hike with a bear bell as it provides an extra layer of protection ensuring bears can hear you traveling and will know when you enter their territory.
At the end of the day, you always want to use your smarts when you are on the mountain and always try to bring a buddy.
You never know what could happen. Now that you have a good idea of what to expect, get out there! The mountains are waiting.
Maria Thompson, an environmental and sustainability enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Georgia where she studied Environmental Economics. She currently lives in the great state of Colorado with her two year pup, Ranger, that she absolutely adores!