About halfway around the White Rock Loop Trail, on the backside of White Rock Mountain, I come upon two guys heading the opposite direction. All three of us step off to the same side of the trail; they to their left, I to my right. We gesture – “Go ahead,” “No, you go ahead” – then add vocal courtesies: “After you”; “No, after you.”
I decide to end the standoff, in case they’re privileging chivalry over trail etiquette. “International hiking protocol,” I say, “dictates that the person going downhill (me) step aside for those going uphill (them).”
They blink a few times, trying to decide if I’m joking. Then, the chubbier of the two replies, “Actually, it’s the other way around. But OK.” They go.
They’re long gone by the time I’ve worked out a clever reply, so the debate continues only in my head. That is the rule, right? Of course it is … It only makes sense that the one going downhill, who can see where he’s going, stop for the one going uphill, who wouldn’t want to lose his momentum … What do they know? Beer-bellied wannabes … Well, actually most of the hikers I know do drink a lot of beer …
The poll I conduct for the remaining 3 miles of the route is no help. “It’s downhill steps aside for uphill, right?” I ask people repeatedly. Befuddled tourists shrug and inquire how much farther it is to the parking lot. Even a weathered old couple with Kelty backpacks and hiking poles isn’t sure. “We just pulled over ’cause we need a rest,” they say.
Turns out I’m right, according to Professor Hike of Backpacker.com, who writes, “Since gaining elevation requires more energy than going down, it’s polite to give way to the person burning more calories.” So there!
My confidence renewed, I thought about all the other unspoken rules I believe in yet so often see broken by newbies and visitors frequenting sites such as Red Rock and Mount Charleston. So, here’s a little more of my “When in Rome” advice on how to do as hikers do.
- Savor the sounds of nature. Loud singing is best saved for your church choir or shower. Loud cell-phone conversations are best saved for that alley behind your office where people go to smoke. Unless you’re calling for help, talk in a normal tone of voice … or consider just listening for coyotes.
- Respect privacy. If you see someone picnicking or stopping for a rest, give them space to enjoy the view. (By that, I don’t mean the view through your camera as you pose for a picture you’ve asked them to take.)
- Hands off. You’re not a third-grader at a natural discovery museum; the stuff you break and deface here is irreplaceable, and sometimes quite valuable. See with your eyes, not with your hands.
- Yes, please ask. Locals love displaying our outdoors knowledge and skills. Want to know the best route or distance to that panoramic view the guidebook mentioned? Stop the next person you see sporting well-worn gear and hit her up. Because she wants you to have fun here, too.