Jeff Senterman on Hiking Safely — 5 Questions

The fourth of July is upon us. The weekend is long and its a fine time to get out into the woods. Of course, waterfalls are often best seen from slippery climbs and sometimes its hard to know how long a trail to attempt.  

In order to wise up a bit, I put put five questions to Jeff Senterman (our Catskill Center Executive Director and half grizzly bear) on the topic. And he generously offered his thoughts: 

Hey Jeff, what would you consider the three most important things to do in order to hike as safely as possible?

Pay attention, pay attention and pay attention! You need to watch where you are stepping, you need to be aware of your surroundings and you need to keep an eye on the people around you that you are hiking with. Awareness and attention go a long way to having a safe hike.

Is it safe to hike around waterfalls?

Waterfalls are inherently dangerous areas with steep slopes and large drop-offs and cliffs. Even at waterfalls where there are maintained trails, walking and hiking in these areas is not 100% safe. A misstep on a steep trail can send a hiker tumbling. Standing too close to the edge of a waterfall can result in an accidental fall over that edge. Unfortunately people die every year at waterfalls and in steep mountain cloves in the Catskills. Having the right hiking shoes, staying on marked and maintained trails and avoiding the edge of waterfalls can result in a safer experience, but experiencing nature in that way will never been 100% safe.

What about with kids? Or what age would you say is a safe age to start hiking?

It's never to young to start hiking with kids. Before I could even walk, my parents had me in a backpack carrier out on trails across the Catskills. As I grew up, the mountains and the trails were natural to me and became something I appreciated. There are plenty of guides about getting kids started with hiking and I think any effort we can make to connect our children to nature, to trails and to the outdoors is a positive development and should be embraced and encouraged!

Should you hike in sandals? What about tevas?

Some people swear by hiking sandals, but I am not one of them. I find the support and traction of a good pair of hiking boots to be something that I wouldn't want to go without on the trails.

Say you’re a gym rat, but a novice hiker, how long a hike would you recommend?

With regular hiking, almost anyone can become a long distance hiker who can rack up the miles, but for those just starting, a 3-mile hike can often be a good starting point. It's long enough to get beyond just a walk, but not so long that it feels like a forced march. From there, start working up to longer and longer distances as you find what works with your body and your feet!

Thanks so much, Jeff! Such good stuff.  Time to lace up, pack the snacks and get out there — see you at the fire towers!