NORTH ELBA, N.Y. — Some of the most popular walks in the Adirondack Park start near a 200-car lot southeast of Lake Placid, but many trails are no walk in the park.
“I think a lot of people who come are not fit to hike on our terrain,” said Lt. Brian Dubay. He was talking about novices mostly, like the guy another ranger saw dragging a Coleman cooler out of the woods.
On busy weekends, two or three hikers may have to be helped or carried out of the popular High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, the state forest rangers said. Common culprits are ankle, knee and other leg injuries. Most hikers walk out, some limping.
“You try to stay in shape, you run a couple times a week, you think you’re in shape, but you start climbing over the boulders and roots and the washed out trails in the rain and you soon find out what kind of shape you’re in,” said 44-year-old Dave Lenhart. “Because you’re using muscles you never knew you had.”
Lenhart had sore feet for a week after his first day hikes in sneakers two years ago with colleagues from suburban Albany.
Now he wears hiking boots and has climbed the 7.4 miles and 3,165 feet in elevation from the main trailhead to the top of mile-high Mt. Marcy, the state’s highest peak.
“It’s a wonderful, almost spiritual thing when you get up to the top there and relax. It’s great to do it with your kids,” Lenhart said. “Coming down is harder. When you’re coming down, those same obstacles seem much more challenging because you’re tired.”
The High Peaks region, 100 miles north of Albany, has grown so popular that the state in the past decade tightened limits on campsites, groups, campfires and pets. Numbers have edged down since 1998, but last Columbus Day weekend more than 700 people had registered by 2 p.m. Saturday at the main trailhead.
Hiking boots needed
Among novice hikers, the most common injuries are twisted ankles, said Courtenay Schurman, a climber and outdoor conditioning coach in Seattle. Sturdy, properly fitting boots provide ankle support on rough terrain, which sneakers don’t, she said.
In the central Adirondacks, the root-laced lower trails among birch and aspen had both boot-sucking mud and icy slush in early April, scattered rocks, and planks over fast-running rivulets. Snowshoes or skis were still needed for the deeper snow above Marcy Dam.
The two rangers, heading to the caretaker lodge at Lake Colden six miles away, had gaiters above hiking boots, duckbill caps, sweaters, jackets and 25-pound packs. Dubay used a pair of metal hiking sticks.
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About 7 million Americans get medical attention annually for sports-related injuries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a study last year. The broad category of recreational sports, which includes hiking, ranked third overall with 647,000 yearly injuries, but first among those over age 25.
Sprains and strains were the leading injuries, followed by broken bones, wounds and abrasions.
For baseline hiker conditioning, Schurman suggests aerobic workouts of 30-45 minutes two or three times a week through vigorous walking, hill or stair-climbing or other exercise like elliptical cross training that works leg muscles.
“If someone wants to go for a five-mile hike, they’re not going to need as much training as a 30-mile hike. That’s not something that people can just jump into,” Schurman said. “That requires three good solid months of training at the least.”
Also, the greater the change in elevation and weight to be carried, the more preparation is required, she said. Lower back pain is another common complaint from people who start carrying packs.
Add strengthening of key muscle groups: the large muscles around the knees, including hamstrings and quadriceps; the gluteus muscles of the buttocks; smaller muscles in the feet, ankles and calves; the lower back and shoulders. Schurman also recommended knowing how to stretch those muscles, which will get tight while hiking.
Hiking and backpacking range from moderate to vigorous activity, depending on speed and ascent, burning anywhere from three to more than six times the calories used at rest, or from about 200 to 400 per hour, according to the CDC.
A daylong hike can burn twice the 2,000 to 2,500 calories that most people need daily. Lightweight snacks like dried fruit, beef jerky and granola bars are typical.
Schurman urges drinking water before you’re thirsty and adding carbohydrate solutions or taking salted foods like pretzels.
“Basically you need to make sure you’re keeping your energy levels up for an extended period of time,” she said. “If you’re thirsty you’re dehydrated. Some people are camels and some people need a lot of water.”
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