by Phil Johnson, Senior Park Ranger
Recent rains have brought a flurry of visitors to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. We love welcoming all the people who come to enjoy the beauty of our lakes, cascading waterfalls, and green mountainsides at this time of year. But we’ve also noticed a significant increase in the number of lost and unprepared hikers. Shorter days and unsettled weather conditions can compound the problem. Whether you’re visiting the watershed or enjoying one of Marin’s many other parks and open spaces, please follow these tips for a safe outdoor experience:
1. Consider the time of year.
The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is open from sunrise to sunset. In the winter the watershed closes at 5 p.m. On north-facing drainages like the Cataract Trail, it can get dark by 4:30 p.m. By comparison, summer strolls on the watershed can last until 9 p.m.
2. Get an early start.
If a route is new to you, or if takes a little longer due to weather or a wrong turn, you will still have enough time to get your hike in before it gets dark.
3. Bring a flashlight.
Always plan to complete your hike by sunset, but have a light just in case.
4. Bring a map.
Take a good map along with you and know how to read it. You can find a printable map of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed
5. Know the area.
If you’re not familiar with an area, contact MMWD or the local land management agency for updates on problem areas, trail reroutes, closures, etc.
6. Watch your footing.
Any trail that has waterfalls will
be wet and slippery. Wear proper shoes, look where you step, and stay on designated trails.
7. Tell a friend.
Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. If you’re lost and no one knows it, you’ll be a lot harder to find. If there’s nobody to tell, leave a note on your windshield with your destination, route, and expected return time.
8. Be prepared for changing conditions.
Just because it’s only partly cloudy when you set off on your hike doesn’t mean it won’t be a complete downpour before you get back. Weather, trail conditions, and visibility can change quickly.
9. Bring extra stuff.
An extra layer of clothing, water, a flashlight, and food may weigh a little more in your day pack, but they can literally be lifesavers in an emergency.
10. Safety in numbers.
Whenever possible hike with a friend. It will give you more options and reassurance in the event of an emergency. You can’t count on your cell phone in remote locations.
In short, have fun but be prepared. A few simple precautions can go a long way toward an enjoyable outdoor experience. Your life could depend on it!
P.S. One more tip: If you’re driving to the watershed, please carpool if possible. Parking spots are hard to find at some trailheads. You’ll also save resources and help reduce impacts on the watershed.