How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

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Hiking is a Pastime I Love

The birds chirping. The sound of the breeze in the leaves of the trees. Frogs and the other creatures. All these things make it a great experience to get out and go for a little hike. It doesn't need to be some elaborate trail just a rarely used gravel road out at my in-laws farm, or some walking paths down by the lake and around our campsite will do. This is a pastime that I love and began to love when I was very young and we would go camping as a family. We would go on little hikes around the acreage I grew up on.

dirt road with canopy of trees overhanging

Hiking Helps Me to Relax

Hiking is an activity helps me to relax, slow down and enjoy the world around me. It is something that I am able to do with my sighted family in almost the same way as them but without sight. It does not matter where I am, I can usually find somewhere to go for a little hike and release some of the stress of daily life. We all need a way to escape and relax and no matter what that activity is, it will bring joy to your life.

white wildflowers beside trail

Working for Parks Canada

But before I got into hiking for relaxation, I worked at Parks Canada. When I was 16 I was encouraged by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to apply for a job with Parks Canada. They were going to choose a few kids that had vision impairments specifically. I put my name in expecting to never hear anything again. To my amazement, a few weeks later, I was chosen as a candidate and got the job. I worked for Parks Canada for 8 weeks during the summer. We traveled to many provincial parks in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada doing various jobs, many of which were trail maintenance and trail covering (shoveling shredded tree bark that coded the trail for miles). We spent many days in the back country trails and it was an amazing experience and the best summer of my life.

While Hiking Beware of Bears

Elk beside stream with ducks swimming

We encountered many different things on our travels through the hundreds of miles of trails we covered. Elk, moose, buffalo, mosquitoes galore and bees. But worst of all were the bears! I remember in preparation for a one back country hike that would be for a few days, we had to do a CPR / First Aid Course and also learn about bear safety. I thought, "Oh, right. You want me to go out and face a bear I won't see coming? This sounds like crazy talk." After some convincing and education I was terrified but went along. I remember they told us to make as much noise as we could when walking through the trails to not surprise a bear. Boy, did I make noise, but I was definitely more worried about the bear surprising me. Thank goodness we never ran into any, but through the terror it was one of the best hikes I had been on.

Safety First When Hiking

Before hiking can be possible for someone with vision loss, safety needs to be the first thing to think about. Going hiking with someone you trust is a better option than doing it alone. This person can be a great asset while enjoying the trails and nature all around. They are able to help you with navigating the obstacles you will face on a trail, such as holes, branches, and other types of things you may run into. If the trail is narrow and you are not able to walk side by side, another way is to use a short rope that the sighted guide will hang onto one end and you on the other end that will help guide you safely over the changes in elevation. But the rope needs to be short enough that you can have good communication.

Using a White Cane for Hiking

A white cane can be useful in determining how high a facing tree branch is off the ground. Also, using your cane can help you determine how wide a hole in the ground is that your guide has told you about. The cane can keep you in the relative middle of the trail using the two tap technique to determine the edge of the trail if possible. I have also used two walking sticks that are designed for the purpose of hiking as well. They are similar to a cane but have a spike or dull point depending on the type. They are much sturdier than a white cane and moving them as you walk helps stabilize you on uneven trails and can be helpful with unsure footing.

Using a Dog Guide When Hiking

A dog guide can be a great tool when hiking, allowing you to focus on the things around you instead of every step you take. The dog guide will provide the same help as a sighted guide by keeping you from running into obstacles on the trail. However, I still do not recommend hiking alone unless you are very familiar with the trail, and are comfortable with it. As a rule, I only hike alone when it is down an old, rarely used, gravel road in a known area and that is more like a country stroll.

Location Determines Hiking Enjoyment

Your enjoyment of this activity will depend on where you live and where you are hiking. For example, are there a lot of hills, mountains, water and trees? How wide is the trail? What types of obstacles are on the trails? What types of animals are in the area? Where I live, I only run into cows, horses, maybe a beaver and some ducks, but nothing too dangerous. I have had experiences in areas where I needed bear bells and spray. In that case you would need to be knowledgeable about those things. I encourage you to look into what types of trails are near you and find some friends and get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. An adventure will surely turn up!

Let's Talk About Hiking

Have you ever hiked before? Do you enjoy hiking? What makes hiking pleasurable for you? How do you use your other senses to fully enjoy hiking? Share your thoughts and comments in the section below.

Social Life and Recreation
There are currently 7 comments

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Hello Ashley, I first started hiking with my boy friend in college. He was a biology major and loved to go camping in wilderness areas. We hiked and camped in Yosemite National Park, up to the top of Mount Badenn Powell, and in the California desert. Later after we married, we hiked in Oregon and Colorado. For awhile, we went with an outdoor recreational group for the visually impaired and the llama I owned and used to carry my stuff was a popular feature on such hikes as the low vision folks found it easy to follow the big fuzzy white fellow on trails. My guide dogs were excellent trail guides and I found a child sized ski pole made a great hiking white cane. I especially found it useful when judging the depth of a drop off. My guide dog loves wearing a string of bear bells especially when we are walking in the vicinity of people using white canes because they don't accidently clip him when they can hear where he is. I always ask for some trail or rural travel in the part of my guide dog classes where we do freelance stuff. I want my dogs to be comfortable guiding on rough ground and in busy cities.

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Great article Ashley. I too am a hiker/backpacker from my college days. I used to be pretty hardcore but alas,I have had to adapt my hiking to vision loss and age! I was thrilled when I discovered how well my guide dog Sophie did on our maiden hike together. It really is a joy to hike with her. She is razor focused on obstacles, roots, rocks, branches, drop off etc. Before having her, my husband and I tried different techniques to adapt and used his belt as a tether. The point is, I could still do it and have a great time at it! We have hiked all over-S.America, Central America,Grand Canyon, Alaska, Yellowstone, Tetons,and recently in Yosemite.THanks for sharing

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Hi Ashley, really lovely article and description of your landscape - it is a little different here in Australia, I shy awayfrom hiking in the summer months due to my fear of treading on a brown snake (a teeny bit venomous) which look just like a branch on the path - except I do venture out on other more defined tracks with my patient partner leading the way with hand to hand signals in our beautiful eucalyptus bush forests as the fresh scent of crushed leaves under foot is amazing, and it is the bird calls that really bring a sense of calm to my being. I'd love to hear more of your wilderness adventures...glad you didn't surprise any bears. By the way, I haven't heard of 'bear bells' before - can I get a pair to put on my sighted guide through a busy city street? Smiling!

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Thanks so much for this post Ashley. There truly is nothing better than getting out there with nature and leaving civilization behind. And you're so right, it doesn't have to be a remote untraveled mountain trail for us to get our batteries recharged and appreciate nature. Best advice you could have given, "Get out there and do it!"

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Wonderful post, Ashley! I love hiking as well. There's nothing like it! Now with more vision loss, I appreciate knowing that I can still hike with a few adaptations. It's not bear country here (so I guess, haven't heard of any (or many) nearby! So glad you didn't meet any. Loved your tips, and hearing about your experience with Parks Canada! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge!
Amy Bovaird

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

Hello Ashley!

My name is Gabriel,I'm Portuguese,from Portugal,and I have been collaborating with Blind and Visually Impaired Associations. I'm working on hiking/walking trips for them. So I was really happy to read your article and to know more about your feelings and needs when you go on a hiking trip. Thank you very much! I'm studying Outdoor Tourism and I'm interested in offering a service people will enjoy and remember.If you want,I would gladly accept suggestions from you and the community. Thanks again.
My best reagards from across the Ocean!

Re: How I Enjoy Hiking With Vision Loss

I really like this article, I randomly came across this page from a google search and even signed up for visionaware right away. I live in Toronto, Ontario, would love to connect with others on here!

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