Advanced Hiking Skills: Know Your Limits, Hike Within Them

James Ryan

DISCLAIMER: Before attempting any level of exercise, please consult with your physician to ensure that you are in good physical condition and able to participate in any of the explained activities. You should understand that when participating in any form of an exercise program, there is always the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in these activities, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, and assume all risk of injury to yourself.

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Just so you all know, when it comes to hiking, I’m no professional. I don’t do this for a living and I don’t claim to be an “expert.” I’ve never run competitively in the Barkley Marathon for example, and I suspect that I never will. No, I’m just a simple hobbyist who enjoys hiking for a multitude of reasons but mainly just for the combined pleasures of relaxation and physical exercise. Plus, it’s a beautiful way to spend your time.

In my previous blog posts, I do my best to help identify the difficulty ratings of various trails that I encounter (beginner, novice, advanced) so that when people read about my wild and crazy adventures as I attempt to hike the entire Bruce Trail from Niagara all the way up to Tobermory, and they think to themselves, oh ya, that sounds like fun. I’d love to go there and experience all of this beautiful Canadian nature first hand, then great! That’s exactly what I’m hoping will happen, except that I don’t want someone who’s never even laced up a pair of hiking boots before to encounter a situation that might be a little too difficult for them. I also don’t want to scare people off from trying it out just because they might perceive hiking as something that’s actually a lot harder than what it really is. It really all just depends on the trail conditions.

My goal is to encourage others to put down their cell phones, close their laptops, and walk away from their televisions, and do something absolutely crazy unheard of – GO OUTSIDE!

Hiking is great, in that there is no prior experience required. Just get yourself a decent pair of boots (Outdoors Oriented in St. Catharines is a great choice if you live in the Niagara Region), and take your time. It’s not a race or a competition with your friends. No one is watching, or at least, no one is judging. Nobody cares. It’s something that practically anyone can do, and do it almost exclusively for their own benefit – away from the stress of their daily lives.


BEGINNER: These trails are easy in the sense that they are mostly flat and predominantly dry. They are ideal for all ages ranging from small children, all the way up to the elderly. Unless a person has a physical handicap that might prevent them from walking or keeping their balance, there’s really no excuse not to hike on these trails and bring the entire family along with you. Or just go by yourself. Whatever floats your boat.

Examples of some really great beginner trails would include: Beamer Memorial Conservation Area (upper escarpment) in Grimsby and Balls Falls (upper waterfall area) in Vineland.

NOVICE: These trails offer more of a challenge. Certain conditions may vary depending on the quality of the terrain and the weather. A little bit of mud for example, is to be expected on the flat sections after a day of rain, but the inclines and downhills would need to be mostly dry to fit into this category. No climbing should ever be required.

Examples of some really great novice trails would include: Rockway Conservation Area in Lincoln and the Cave Springs Conservation Area in Beamsville.

ADVANCED: These trails are obviously difficult for a variety of reasons, usually pertaining to inclement weather and/or the obstacles that you may need to overcome. For example, hiking on a rainy day in a trail section full of steep, muddy hills might be better suited for someone with the proper gear and experience levels to ensure that they remain unharmed. I usually ask myself when rating a trail, would I want my 70-year old mother to hike this area? And if the answer is no, then I would almost always classify it at an advanced trail.

Examples of some really great advanced trails would include: Short Hills Provincial Park in Thorold and Balls Falls (lower rapids area) in Jordan Station.

EXPERT: Luckily, the Bruce Trail, particularly here in the Niagara Region, doesn’t really offer any sections that might fall under this category, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist elsewhere. Anywhere that requires some serious climbing (the Decew Falls escarpment is the perfect example of this) should be avoided, particularly if you’re either hiking alone or if you’re inexperienced as a climber. Over the years, a lot of hikers have unfortunately misjudged their own abilities and have been air-lifted out of Decew and the Niagara Gorge with serious injuries as a result. Be smart about it. Know your limits. Consider the consequences of failing.

The other day, I ran into a similar situation where I had to ask myself, is it worth the risk? Am I confident enough in my physical capabilities to essentially free climb down a cliff without a safety rope or a spotter? I quickly decided, no!

It might take an expert (which again, I am not) to complete some of these climbs, but a necessary skill for any advanced hiker (which I definitely am) is to know your own limitations and make sure you never jeopardize your own health (or life) just because you’re feeling adventurous. Always use caution, stay on the marked trails, and know what you are capable of from a physical standpoint.

Just try to remember why you’re out there in the first place – to have fun, relax a little, and to get the blood flowing though your heart, legs and brain. Not only will you feel better physically, but I guarantee you will start to feel better emotionally and mentally as well.

Heck, you might even start blogging about it. See you out there!




*UPDATED: April 28, 2018

James Ryan
James Ryan


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