How to take in the fall foliage without the hidden dangers of ‘leaf peeping’

Jeffrey Weinstein has traveled the world rescuing people trapped in dangerous situations. He recounts one recent incident of a young college student in New Hampshire who found herself in trouble while “leaf peeping,” a term used to describe people’s travel to see the changing colors of fall foliage.

“That was a really sad story,” Weinstein said. “She went on a trek and didn’t have adequate clothing. She got lost off the trail. It got dark and she couldn’t find her way back. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.”

Weinstein, an associate operations manager at international crisis response provider Global Rescue, said as the fall foliage begin to appear, it beckons people to take to trails and do some leaf peeping — but there are hidden risks.

Some of the most prevalent — but often ignored — risks include insects and biting bugs, he said.

“There are yellowjackets and bees and wasps and they can be aggressive during the fall,” Weinstein said. “Some people are fine if they get a sting, but others can have an allergic reaction.”

Weinstein advises carrying antihistamine on hikes, and to be on the lookout for ticks that can burrow deep into the skin, causing Lyme disease.

“Make sure you do a thorough check for ticks on your body,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find them.”

When the red, yellow and brown leaves appear, leaf peeping excursions begin. Sometimes those leaves can cover dangerous hiking hazards, Weinstein said.

“A lot of people look at the leaves and they say, ‘oh, wow, I’m going on a hike,’” he said. “And that’s great, but what you need to keep in mind is that those leaves can pose hidden risks.”

Wet, slippery leaves can lead to falls. Sometimes they hide holes or large tree roots that are tripping hazards. Weinstein recommends donning the proper footwear for hiking.

“You want to wear shoes that have quality ankle support and good traction,” he said. “Not running shoes or sneakers.”

The earlier sunsets of fall bring with them an evening glow that can turn a hiking trail into an enchanted forest. Weinstein said unless hikers are ready for outdoor nighttime conditions, they should cut the trek short.

“Be aware that it does get dark sooner. It gets cold quicker,” he said. “Have a lighting source and more layers and have the ability to keep warm.”

Before heading out on a new, remote trail or even one that’s familiar and close by, Weinstein said hikers should research the area and pack a communication device, like a cellphone or a satellite messaging device. He also stressed the importance of always telling a trusted friend or family member about both planned and impromptu outdoor excursions.

“Say, ‘hey, guys this is where I’m going. If you don’t hear from me, contact emergency services,’” he said. “We do a lot of search and rescue and most of the time it’s due to people who didn’t adequately prepare for the situation they found themselves in.”

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