Writing this post on waterfall safety and common sense wasn’t something I wanted to do. However, our observations in recent years (of which the photo you see above is an example) have made it clear that we need a reminder about being safe AND responsible. After all, waterfalls have always been popular over the years, but it has especially blown up since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. This means even more people are sharing this precious resource, and thus, there are more chances of bad things happening that wind up ruining it for everyone else…
While we all share and enjoy waterfalls, it’s in all of our best interests to keep this good thing going. Besides, waterfalls are good for our mental health, good for exercise, and a good excuse to share in the experience with loved ones and like-minded strangers.
However, all it takes is a few ignorant, oblivious people and/or selfish a**holes to ruin it for everyone. Not only that, but it also messes up the future enjoyment of this resource by everyone (including the perpetrator(s)).
What good is it to go to an enjoyable place and then never come back or see it in a state that’s forever defiled and unable to be that pleasant experience you remembered it to be?
Or to have to come back to a place that now has signs everywhere, charges money (or even more money than before for the inevitable maintenance), or is closed off altogether?!?
Indeed, this post is meant to be a resource (as well as a reminder) on how to be safe while respecting both Nature and the people around you.
We’re all looking to have a good time, but it shouldn’t be at anyone else’s nor Nature’s expense.
Who Are You To Tell Me What To Do?!?
I’ll just straight up say that I’m not telling you what to do.
I’m only trying to make you aware of a way for you to enjoy waterfalls without being an a**hole.
I know we think we know what’s in our best interest, but we also have to consider how our actions impact other people AND the environment.
It’s like if you choose to go speeding in a school zone with children walking around, wouldn’t the parents fear for the safety of their children (let alone be pissed off at your irresponsible behavior)?
Or if you choose to smoke with other people around (especially children) who have to breathe your second-hand smoke and increase their chances of cancer, wouldn’t your actions endanger those around you by no fault of their own (let alone not appreciating your lack of consideration)?
It’s by the same token that the common sense rules of basic courtesy as well as personal responsibility also apply as far as visiting waterfalls are concerned.
Here are some examples of where we’ve observed in the field a lack of common sense and basic maturity, which resulted in unintended (or intended if you’re really a jerk) consequences…
TAKING UNNECESSARY RISKS
One thing I’ve observed over the years is that my perception of risk is very different now than it was when I was younger.
Indeed, I’ve done some things in my younger days that I now consider myself either lucky that something bad didn’t happen to me or that I might reconsider doing.
At least I lived to tell about it, but I also used these experiences to have that “Spidey-sense” to turn back when I perceived the risk versus reward would be too great to proceed.
I especially realized this change of risk perception now that I see how my daughter perceives risk, where she hasn’t really lived enough to properly weigh the consequences of her actions (though Julie and I are doing our best to teach her that respect of Nature as well as her limits).
Now, I’ve been chasing waterfalls for the better part of 20 years and counting.
But if I’ve encountered situations that were sketchy, I can only imagine how unprepared people take unnecessary risks based on something they saw in the socials (e.g. Yelp, AllTrails, YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok, etc.) out of ignorance and/or their own social media attention seeking.
So what are examples of these unnecessary risks? Here are some that come to mind…
- cliff jumping or jumping off waterfalls without properly assessing their situation
- getting too close to slippery slopes and/or cliff edges (typically to try to improve a photo- or video-taking position)
- taking shortcuts or off-trail scrambling without proper gear or adequate preparation
- lingering around (let alone going into) fast-moving streams, rockfall-prone areas, and/or flash-flood prone areas without checking the weather and/or coming prepared
- blatantly ignoring (or at least appreciating the risks and consequences called out by) the warning signs and railings
While I get the addiction of being one of the first to showcase a new photo angle to the public or a new stunt or way to experience a waterfall that few people have done before, we have to remember that waterfalls (and Nature in general) are inherently dangerous.
By definition, waterfalls are steep with vertical cliffs or slopes that are fatal if you fall off them or are swept over the waterfall themselves (like in a flash flood).
It’s not Disneyland nor should you expect it to be like a theme park that’s there for your thrill and entertainment.
However, incidents like fatalities and severe injuries around waterfalls are what causes these places to become closed, or have them defaced by a bunch of signs or railings.
This is in addition to the life of grief (and likely financial burden) from the family members of those who are survived by the passing of someone (or even a life-altering injury) over something that’s preventable.
In a world where we’re becoming bombarded with sensationalism, this risk versus perceived reward/attention on the socials is a very fine line, and crossing it is the difference between life and death (or even one where your life is changed forever like if you get paralyzed).
Just to give you an idea that I’m not exaggerating about this fine line, here is a short video about some people who went beyond that fine line and paid the ultimate price for failing to consider that risk versus reward…
NOT TAKING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Related to the point above about taking unnecessary risks, I’ve also witnessed people placing the blame on other people instead of themselves when bad things happen (especially when they didn’t properly prepare for their visit).
There’s a lot that can go wrong in Nature, and you have to respect and fear Nature to properly enjoy the experience without becoming a casualty.
That said, I’ve witnessed numerous people taking on difficult trails with insufficient water, improper shoes (and equipment for that matter), and an overall obliviousness to what can go wrong.
I know most of these people see something on the internet and then assume that they can just rock up unprepared; not aware of changes to the conditions or situations (e.g. change to private property access, change in the weather, increased erosion and hazards from increased usage, etc.).
Inevitably, something does happen to these people, and then they turn around and try to take advantage of a flawed legal system to sue for “damages” without taking personal responsibility for their own lack of situational awareness (and just straight up carelessness).
This actually happens quite a bit in the USA (it’s why we’re such a litigious society), because there’s a perverse incentive to exploit past rulings that put the responsibility of bad behavior from visitors onto the private landowner.
It’s the main reason why the easiest thing to do for a landowner would be to close off access to a beloved waterfall so they don’t have to deal with these legal hassles.
Either that or the experience for that waterfall becomes adversely affected and less naturesque thanks to more barricades and signs to prevent or at least discourage people from doing stupid things.
While laws may be different state-to-state, we’ve witnessed this a lot in Hawaii, where many of the state’s treasured swimming holes are now kapu (forbidden) like Upper Puohokamoa Falls, Kipu Falls, and countless others.
Over the years, I’ve learned that hiking is all about risk assessment and finding the easiest way to reach the destination without getting hurt and without harming the environment giving rise to your enjoyment.
Failure to do this results in trail erosion and increased incidences of landslides or rock slides, which makes particular spots even more dangerous than before with the increased utilization (due to waterfalls’ increasing popularity, for example).
So it’s in this vain that I’ve seen people take shortcuts on switchbacks or scramble off-trail just to be different or lazy.
But what they don’t understand is such routes trample and kill the vegetation that is working to stabilize the soil (and thus give rise to conditions that allow the trail to be there in the first place).
With the increased erosion, you also get landslides and rock slides.
Such is the case when going up the switchbacks of the Mary Jane Falls Trail in Mt Charleston near Las Vegas, where an apparent disregard for paying attention to the trails leads to crazy steep shortcuts that actually end up being slower than if they went the correct way in the first place!
Mary Jane Falls has been closed from time to time due to trail maintenance as a result of the complications brought on by these shortcuts.
While I’ve singled out this waterfall for this example, there are numerous cases of such issues popping up at any of the popular waterfalls around the world (but especially in the US).
Further exacerbating the erosion issue, the false trails that result from these shortcuts end up confusing other hikers, which further accelerate the soil erosion with each person following the wrong paths (and thereby repeating the closure, maintenance, re-opening cycle).
LEAVING A TRACE
I don’t know about you, but I know I’m not alone when we seek out Nature to get away from the craziness of city life.
So imagine how triggering and violating it is to see the city being brought to Nature!
That’s exactly what has been happening (especially since the pandemic outbreak in early 2020) in our trails and our waterfalls, and the urban blight has been rapidly escalating with the increased visitation (since most indoor activities had been closed).
I get why people scrawl “so-and-so loves so-and-so” messages on the trees or rocks, and I’m guessing the same kind of mentality pervades the act of spray-painting trees and rocks (unless maybe there’s some hidden message in there about establishing gang territories or drug trade routes; who knows?).
But such defacing of Nature definitely negatively impacts the experience for everybody else (especially from a mental health standpoint), and I don’t think the perpetrators are even aware of (let alone care about) how long it takes for Nature to heal from such activities.
In addition to the triggering vandalism from tagging Nature, there’s also littering and the associated pollution that tend to poison the streams and pools that we enjoy around waterfalls.
We have to remember that Nature is a shared resource that is to be enjoyed by everyone, and people shouldn’t be allowed to get away with selfishly treating such places like it’s their own garbage dump.
Speaking of pollution, there’s also noise pollution that has pervaded the trails and natural attractions with increasing frequency these days.
Playing music or yelling and screaming unnecessarily definitely prevents people from enjoying the Nature and turns it more into the kind of atmosphere better reserved for clubs or parties (provided the neighbors are cool with it).
I can point to an explicit example where my Mom wanted to play Chinese music loudly off her iPhone while we were doing a hike in the Sawtooth’s in Idaho before I encouraged her to stop so we can increase the odds of spotting wildlife (something that you can try if you encounter someone disturbing the peace).
Not long after she stopped, we spotted some kind of fox or coyote with a kill going by the trail, which we would have missed had the music still been playing!
At the end of the day, this isn’t about being holier than thou or being told what to do.
It’s about making sure we don’t ruin a good thing that’s getting harder and harder to come by these days.
Waterfall Safety & Common Sense Checklist
I know a lot of us don’t like to read so I thought I’d just put this checklist in so you can keep these things in mind for the better enjoyment of waterfalls and Nature in general.
For your own safety, just remember these things…
- Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into (i.e. Prepare)
- Don’t Hike Alone (But If You Must, Tell Someone Before Going)
- Know Your Limits And Make Wise Decisions (Stay On Trails, Don’t Jump Off Cliffs, Don’t Kill Yourself To Show Off Your Pic Or Video)
- Protect Yourself & Your Gear (Wear And/Or Use Proper Equipment like your Shoes, Check For Ticks, Snakes, etc.)
- Hydrate And Eat (Bring Enough Water And Food)
- Be Situationally Aware (Stay In The Moment, Pay Attention)
If you’d like a more in-depth write-up about things you’ll need to consider about hiking, you can read it here.
As far as common sense is concerned, all you really need to do is to leave no trace of you being there…
- Pack Out What You Bring In (Don’t Expect Trash Cans In Nature)
- Leave Nature Alone (e.g. Don’t Feed Or Touch Wildlife, Don’t Deface Nature, Don’t Collect Things, etc.)
While I’m perhaps oversimplifying what it really means to leave no trace, there are 7 principles, which you can read about here.
Finally, for your enjoyment as well as the enjoyment of others, just be nice and respectful. Don’t be an a**hole…
- Give Other People Space (Either Pass Them Or Let Faster Hikers Pass, Don’t Crowd Others)
- Don’t Be Noisy, Just Enjoy Nature (Turn Off Speakers; Use Headphones If You Must Listen To Music – But You’re Missing Out)
- Don’t Endanger People In Your Group Or Others (Don’t Leave People In Your Group Behind, Warn People Around You About Hazards Encountered)
- Don’t Be A Public Health & Safety Hazard (Don’t Smoke, Don’t Kick Up Dust)
- Take Time To Connect With Nature & Other People (This Is Not A Race)
Again, I may be oversimplifying things, but if you’re looking for more expert advice on how to be safe and responsible in the outdoors, you can dig into the rabbit hole here.
How Can I Be Safe Chasing Waterfalls? Some Waterfall Safety Tips
All it takes for a waterfalling experience to be ruined is from a single accident where someone gets injured or killed.
This is something nobody wants so here are some things you can do to minimize the chances of such problems from occurring.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING YOURSELF INTO
Before setting off on a waterfall hike or visit, know what you’re getting yourself into by preparing for your excursion (i.e. doing your research concerning the trail conditions, the weather forecast, and other things to look out for).
And you’ll want to use genuine, authentic content from trip reports written by people who have actually been there (not click bait articles or self-indulgent blogs and vlogs), learning about what a particular waterfall as well as getting there is like.
It’s especially important to check with the local authorities about closures, hours, current conditions, hazards, etc.
That way, you don’t become blindsided by unexpected obstacles or predicaments that could mean the difference between life or death (or a hefty fine).
If anything, by knowing what you’re getting yourself into, you can use that information to come prepared with the proper hiking routes (or alternatives in the event of closure) as well as being equipped with the proper gear.
Moreover, if you know in advance what obstacles you’re going to face on the hike, then you can plan your route to either avoid them or to study carefully how to get past certain known obstacles safely.
Waterfalling is a subset of hiking in general, and in my experience, hiking is all about assessing risk.
In other words, you want to find the easiest way to reach your destination while minimizing risks, because every risky decision or obstacle is a potential for a bad accident that could ruin your visit (or entire trip) completely!
DON’T HIKE ALONE
Nature is inherently a dangerous place. It’s not Disneyland. And you’re just kidding yourself if you think you can eliminate every risk that Nature throws at you.
So in that vain, you’ll definitely want to hike in groups.
Not only does this make the excursion more enjoyable because you get to keep good company, but it’s also practical in that if there’s a wildlife encounter (e.g. a mountain lion or bear), there’s less likely to be an attack when you have a group as opposed to an individual.
Having more people can also help with obstacles or provide advanced warning to the people behind the leader.
For example, there could be a large boulder obstacle that needs to be climbed, but one person might need a push from the person below while the next person might need a pull from the person already atop the obstacle.
Granted, hiking in groups isn’t always an option (I know because my wife and daughter have been less interested in some of the longer and harder waterfall hikes I’ve taken).
If you can’t find a willing partner to go on a hike alone, then let someone know what you’re doing and when you expect to be back (especially if there’s no cell service).
That way, help is not far away and you don’t have to be in a survival situation for several days should the unthinkable happen.
One example of where I did a risky hike by myself was my 16-mile Union Falls hike in Yellowstone, which involves a river crossing, a fairly deep stream crossing, and doing all this in grizzly country.
Knowing the risks I was taking, I planned my visit on a Saturday where I knew there’d be some people around to minimize the chances of a grizzly encounter (and this was in addition to bringing bear spray, trekking poles, plenty of food and especially water, and wearing proper gear).
KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND MAKE WISE DECISIONS
I’ve been chasing waterfalls for at least 20 years now, and I still find myself having to swallow my pride and turn back if I encounter an obstacle that I’m not prepared for.
Over the years, I’ve learned what my limits are by partaking in waterfalling for this long, but more importantly, I’ve learned that if I’m not comfortable with a particular obstacle or I seemed to have lost the route, then one of the following should happen:
- There’s another, easier way to go if the trail is legitimate (i.e. sanctioned and maintained) so take the easier way
- I got lost, went the wrong way, and need to backtrack to the last known, familiar part of the trail before continuing
- Something happened that destroyed the trail (fallen tree, landslide, washout, etc.) and either proceed VERY cautiously or turn back
- Conditions are too extreme to proceed and I need to turn back
Indeed, it’s better to come back at another time (i.e. “live to fight another day”) than it is to force the issue and end up losing my life (at which point there’s no coming back).
Even when you’re on the trail or at the waterfall, you have to constantly make calm, rational, and logical decisions to minimize the chances of injury.
For example, you might want to ask yourself, should I jump the waterfall (especially if I didn’t assess where the rocks are or how deep the pool is)?
Or, if you see a steep trail, you might want to ask yourself, is that really a trail? Is there not another, easier way to go? Or did I lose the trail and need to backtrack to where I know I’ve been before?
Heck, I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count, but the fact that I’m here writing this article tells you that I at least got out just fine.
I remember one time when there was flooding in Moorea Island (in Tahiti), where there was a fast-moving flooded stream during heavy rains, which made me turn back and come back the next day.
Same thing happened on the Mangatini Falls in the South Island of New Zealand where heavy rains made me reconsider doing the Charming Creek Walkway, and instead came back the following morning when the weather improved.
PROTECT YOURSELF (AND YOUR GADGETS)
What I mean by this is to protect yourself from the elements.
For example, since waterfalls tend to be around freshwater streams and moist environments, you’re going to encounter mosquitoes, ticks, and poison ivy (among other hazards).
Therefore, you’ll want to minimize skin exposure by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, a hat, sunscreen, and bug repellent (I use 100% DEET against the mozzies and ticks).
Sometimes, there’s other biting insects like sandflies, midges, tse tse flies, or others where bug spray doesn’t seem to work on them, which is further reason why you want your clothing to act as a barrier to such elements.
I also use sturdy hiking boots to protect my feet and ankles as well as to protect myself from poisonous snake bites.
When I’m done with a hike, especially if the trail was overgrown, I had enough tick bites on me to know that it’s a good idea to have someone check for them.
Even to this day, I have joint pain that I’d like to think comes from old age and maybe diet to some degree.
But to be honest, I don’t really know (and I may never know) if a tick bite from the past left me with an illness that already affected my joints all these years later.
In addition to hazards from obstacles and wildlife, we also have to account for hypothermia.
That’s why I also bring layers of clothing (windbreaker jacket, maybe a fleece layer under that) so I can layer on or off to adjust to the swings in temperature as well as to the heat I generate from physical exertion.
Moreover, I always have a rain poncho just in case we get a sudden thunderstorm or rain on our hike, or a particular waterfall produces enough mist to virtual act like a shower.
Such protections can also shield my expensive electronics (like my DSLR or mirrorless camera), which don’t like getting wet, and that’s where I might consider bringing a dry bag just in case.
I got burned one time when I did a hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota and didn’t come prepared for a water obstacle that ultimately caused me to dunk my camera and render it inoperable for at least 3 days (luckily I didn’t lose it for the entire trip)!
HYDRATE AND EAT
Bring enough food and water with you not only to keep you energetic on your waterfalling excursion, but just in case something bad happens, you can at least avoid dehydration and starvation if you’re waiting for help.
While there’s a tradeoff between bringing extra food and water, which leads to increased pack weight, there’s no substitute for your own health and safety.
There’s only one of you. So why put yourself in jeopardy over saving a pound or two of food and water?
One time I did an out-and-back hike to Hanakoa Falls on the Kalalau Trail, and I actually ran out of water in the last 2 miles of the 13-mile hike.
I was feeling the onset of heat exhaustion, I wanted to lay down on the trail (further exposing me to the elements), and I was feeling nauseous with throbbing headaches even hours after the hike was over!
Don’t underestimate how quickly things can go south, and thus, don’t undervalue the need to stay fed and hydrated.
If you’ve watched Alone or Naked and Afraid, then you already know how far the human body can be deprived before you start to shut down, but there’s no camera crew or satellite phone to tap out and get bailed out by a safety crew in real life!
BE SITUATIONALLY AWARE
I have a saying that I borrowed from Phil Jackson when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers during the Kobe and Shaq era.
It’s to always “be in the moment.”
What that means is to enjoy what is going on here and now. Don’t look ahead and don’t dwell on the past. Be in the present.
Not only does this give you maximum enjoyment when chasing waterfalls (or even when traveling the world in general), but it also helps you survive and avoid problems in Nature.
Indeed, Nature is inherently dangerous, but it need not be if you’re aware of your surroundings at all times.
So if I see lots of bear scat on the trail, then that’s when I will make noise by talking loudly or even sing to myself if I’m alone (so I don’t startle a sow and her cubs, which is a common situation in bear attacks).
By the way, remember what I said about not being noisy? Well, this is an exception to that rule for very good reason!
If I see dark clouds budding overhead, I might think twice about stream scrambling in a narrow canyon or gorge because a wall of water from a flash flood could be the end of me right there!
Moreover, if I see ice or moisture on a sloping, cliff-exposed trail, I might have to turn back because a slip-and-fall could mean a fatal plunge over the cliff!
So situational awareness by being in the moment will not only make the experience enjoyable, but it could help you avoid catastrophes and survival situations!
How Can I Not Leave My Mark? An Introduction To Wilderness Ethics And Leave No Trace Principles
While waterfall safety is important, we also have to recognize that Nature (of which waterfalls are a part of) is fragile.
It’s very easy for the beautiful places we all love to be defiled by not respecting it.
Moreover, by not respecting the right of others to enjoy the waterfalling experience as you got to do it, it’s very selfish and really deprives people of the ability to heal themselves in Nature.
So to that end, the simplest rule to follow concerning not being an a**hole to Nature and to other people is to leave no trace.
That means when you visit, enjoy, and leave a waterfall (let alone any place out in Nature), you leave it either in better shape or at least the way you found it.
There should be no evidence of you being there, and the next person that comes there should have no idea that someone was there before.
PACK OUT EVERYTHING YOU BRING IN
Don’t expect there to be a trash can in Nature.
After all, who’s going to pay for someone to hike to the bin, empty out the trash, and then haul it away (let alone bringing the bin there in the first place)?
If you still want such places to be accessible without having to pay for maintenance and clean-up, then you have to clean up after your own mess.
Just because something is cheap or free doesn’t mean it can be treated like trash.
If anything, it should be respected and taken care of.
But if we can’t even do that, then the only way to keep waterfall experiences enjoyable is to pay to visit, which should be enough to pay for the inevitable maintenance and upkeep of such places.
It’s kind of like how they charge more (per person, mind you) in most other places around the world.
But if we truly want to keep our treasured places in Nature as available and democratic (i.e. for everyone) as possible, then only we can decide how this is going to go…
LEAVE NATURE ALONE
It goes without saying that Nature is at her best and the most enjoyable when she’s left alone.
There is no such thing as “improving on Nature”. There’s no “Man versus Nature”. Nature is not “against you”. Nature just is.
All you have to do is to look at the difference between National Parks (well, the uncrowded spots, anyway) and the unprotected lands outside of our reserves, where you can see…
- scars from deforested, clear-cut swaths of forest
- scars and polluted streams from mining activities
- huge factories or processing plants for coal, lumber, etc.
- farmlands dominating the landscape and encroaching on dimishing wilderness
- cities and suburbs in place of forests
- etc., etc.
At a more local level, we can do our part by not feeding wildlife.
For in doing so, the wildlife gets hooked on our high energy human foods (instead of their own natural diet).
Then, they start acting like addicts, where they’d rather starve or get really aggressive to get their next dopamine hit.
You can already see how aggressive plague-carrying squirrels get in places like Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park because too many people thoughtlessly feed them or don’t properly dispose of their trash.
This is not unlike how human addicts can behave unpredictably if desperate for drugs, and even our daughter exhibits such behavior if she doesn’t get to play video games.
Anyways, feeding animals is another way that compels them to attack, especially when they’re acclimated to humans and associate them with food they shouldn’t be eating.
In addition, don’t collect rocks, cones, shells, or other things in Nature, and the same goes with cutting down trees (that Christmas tree tradition is really problematic).
Especially with the cones, that’s how the next generation of oxygen-providing trees would grow so you don’t want to screw up this cycle of life.
Then, when it comes to graffiti and litter, just don’t do it.
People come to Nature for healing. They don’t want reminders of the stresses and BS they get from the cities.
So don’t bring the ‘hood into the wild. Keep it in the dingy parts of the cities if that’s your thing, and make sure it stays there!
How To Be Nice & Respectful & Not Be An A**Hole
Finally, I’ve talked ad nauseum about how to keep ourselves out of harm’s way as well as how to respect Nature.
But what about being nice and respectful to other people?
Here are some guidelines on how to do that so everyone (including yourself) gets to enjoy the whole experience of waterfalling…
GIVE PEOPLE SPACE
When on the trails, there will be some people who hike fast and others who hike slow.
If you’re a slow hiker and you sense the presence of people coming up behind you, give them the courtesy of letting them pass you by.
Don’t make it so that they uncomfortably have to squeeze pass you, especially during a pandemic, where we’re all aware of the coodies we might be exchanging when we’re in close proximity to each other.
Conversely, if you’re a fast hiker, you can always always initiate if the slower hikers in front are oblivious to your presence by kindly asking if you can pass.
Keeping your distance also goes for hanging out at overlooks or just chilling in general (though this can be harder if the choicest viewing spots are being held hostage by certain squatters who treat a spot as if it’s theirs).
DON’T BE NOISY
I talked about this earlier in this article, where it’s really not a good thing if you’re broadcasting your music or whatever’s playing on your device.
Really, just be in the moment, pay attention to your surroundings, and leave the music for another time. Wear a headphone if you have to (though you’d really be missing out on what’s around you).
Nature can surprise you in so many ways, but you lose out on such opportunities if you become a source of noise pollution that drives the wildlife away while also annoying the people you share the trails with.
If you’re looking for a party, just do it at the pool or someone’s house party or BBQ. Don’t do it in Nature.
By the way, if you do happen to see someone playing music on the trails, you can subtly suggest they might want to turn off the music because “you saw some cool wildlife but you’re gonna scare them away if you keep playing the music”.
DON’T ENDANGER PEOPLE BOTH IN AND OUT OF YOUR GROUP
If you’re hiking in a group, just remember that you’re only as fast as your slowest hiker.
If you have impatient people in your party (what’s the rush anyway?) don’t leave the less-experienced or slowest people behind.
You never know if they need support or if they get in trouble if everyone else is ahead and out of sight.
So at least have one of the strongest hikers in the back to ensure everyone is accounted for and no one gets lost.
Besides, if you want the people in your group to continue engaging in waterfall hikes, then you’ll want to make sure they enjoy their experience and not suffer.
As for endangering people, if you’re the group leader, you have to be realistic about the capabilities of your party before setting out on a hike.
Don’t do a hard hike or on some insane scramble and bushwhack if you’ve got people in your group who aren’t used to hiking and aren’t aware of the hazards.
And if you do have to experience hazards or encounter them on the way, then help out the people in your group or at least provide warning to them on what’s coming up.
At the end of the day, you’re responsible for everyone’s safety and to ensure they have a good time.
Similarly, you’ll want to be going at a steady, deliberate pace so you don’t end up endanging other people outside your group let alone within your own group.
Don’t run or goof off and put other people in danger, especially around drop-off hazards.
DON’T BE A PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY HAZARD
As far as not being a public health and safety hazard goes, please refrain from smoking.
Not only are you causing the people around you to breathe your toxic second-hand smoke, but you’re also creating a wildfire hazard if you improperly dispose of your cigarette (or joint or whatever else you’re burning and putting in your lungs).
Given how Global Warming has been drying up our forests, this not only puts you in harm’s way, but it also puts everyone else around in danger should a wildfire blow up and threaten to surround and burn everything and everyone around.
Speaking of fires, I think it’s pretty obvious not to be using firearms or fireworks in the forest.
This happened with some immature idiot tossed fireworks into the Eagle Creek Gorge in Oregon in 2017 and caused one of the most destructive fires in the history of the state, essentially decimating and closing much of the beloved Columbia River Gorge for several years.
Even if you’re not engaging in fire-causing activities, if the weather has been dry, please refrain from kicking up dust as much as possible, especially around other people.
The fine dust particles resulting from the perturbations easily gets into the lungs, which stays there and further impacts breathing in much the same way that Stage 1 Smog Alerts used to screw with our lungs back in Southern California in the 80s.
If you can, tread lightly or at least either quickly pass slower hikers or stay behind faster hikers to minimize your impacts to each other as far as the breathing dust particles are concerned.
Finally, if a place is going to be crowded or hard to socially distance because it’s popular, then it’s still a good idea to whip out a face mask and prevent yourself from spreading whatever germs you may have to other people.
You don’t need to wear masks all the time (especially if no one is around), but it’s all about being kind and respectful to other peoples’ safety and not a political statement about personal freedoms.
Remember, we want to be nice and not a**holes. So don’t impose the consequences of your beliefs and conspiracy theories on everyone else.
TAKE TIME TO CONNECT WITH NATURE & OTHER PEOPLE
Needless to say, being in Nature is not a race. In order to enjoy it, you need to slow down and let her heal you.
So not only should you pay attention to your surroundings and “smell the roses”, as they say, but you should politely greet fellow hikers that you encounter.
And if you do strike up a conversation with someone, enjoy the moment.
Who knows what you might learn from this other person (e.g. whether a waterfall is flowing, or how much further to go, or what hazards to be aware of)?
It’s all part of not just enjoying Nature for yourself and your loved ones, but it’s also about creating that environment where everyone gets to enjoy the outdoors as well as share it with like-minded people who are there for the same reasons as you!
Final Thoughts / Conclusion
So that concludes this reminder and resource on waterfall safety and common sense practices and principles to maximize the enjoyment of waterfalls (and Nature in general) by everyone, including yourself.
If everyone adhered to the common decency of respecting the environment as well as other people and other wildlife, then the world wouldn’t be in as much of a bind as it is now.
In fact, at a deeper level, I think our education system severely lacks environmental ethics and the science behind how our environment functions and serves us.
So if we don’t have such values and appreciation for how Nature works ingrained in us because the system is failing us, then how can we expect people in general to behave in a respectful way that preserves the places we love as well as allow Nature to keep thriving and to keep providing?
How can we expect the environment to have a chance at recovering if our very wealth-building activities undermine its ability to provide humankind (or all forms of life for that matter) with a place to live and thrive?
Anyways, I hope that this post has brought attention to how we can enjoy and take care of the places we love in the absence of such fundamental education and policies.
But realize that while we can do what we can with our own personal choices, solving these kinds of problems requires cooperation to get the policies in place to get people to behave responsibly in a natural and organic manner.
And by policy, I mean that the environment must be properly valued so environmentally-detrimental activities would be cost-prohibitive instead of encouraged.
Even if there are people who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions, at the end of the day, we all need to collectively understand that we reap what we sow (to paraphrase an old Mike Ehrmantraut line).
In other words, we’re responsible for our own mess! But we can also keep a good thing going if we let it!
If you’d like to read more about waterfall safety (or hiking safety in general), then you can read these expert tips.
And if you have questions or comments, feel free to use the form below and tell us what’s on your mind!
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