Have you ever walked blindfolded on trails through the mountains covered with rocks, twigs, branches, logs and other obstacles? While blindfolded cross wooden footbridges with babbling creeks many feet below. While still blindfolded, walk on trails through the forest of ferns, mosses, bushes, plants and a variety of other vegetation with ever changing trail elevations?
I had the opportunity to do the equivalent of hiking blindfolded twice this week in two different mountain ranges, and fully enjoyed myself.
I am completely blind and walk with the aid of two canes. One support cane and one long white cane. Prior to losing all of my vision unexpectedly and instantly one day after work, I used to love hiking and backpacking. Losing the ability to walk for one year, a side effect from the serious medical emergency that took my eyesight and the inability to see with my eyes physically was not going to deter me from enjoying hiking, surrounded by my love of nature.
I am diabetic, another side effect from the medical emergency that took my eyesight, so I always insure I pack food, water and a glucose tablet to help me keep my blood glucose level at a safe level. I also always walk with a partner when I am on trails in the forests, woods and fields.
Take Time to Enjoy Scents and Sounds
The first thing I notice when I am hiking is all the different smells. I first smell the freshness of the air. Then I can sometimes smell the clean earthy aroma lofting through the sunlight. Then the smells of the trees, bushes, and flowers roll in to consume my senses. As I walk, it seems as if around every corner there is a new surprise scent to tantalize my mind and senses. I imagine I am walking through nature’s potpourri of natural candy.
As I take each step I am constantly listening for wildlife. I hear the loud shrieks of hawks as they fly above. I can hear the rap, tap, tap of Woodpeckers. I can hear a variety of other birds of all sizes up in the trees, in the bushes and rustling along the ground. I can hear small lizards very low to the ground, as they quickly scurry to hide as I walk by them. The ground squirrels venture near to see if I will provide a snack. I can hear the louder sounds of deer hoofs as they leap and hop through the nearby brush or through the open woods with ease and grace. I gauge how deep and how close I am to any flowing creek by the sounds the water makes as it flows over rocks, boulders, and spills over any falls. I gauge where I am in the shade or sun by feeling any heat from the sun’s rays directly hitting my arms, face or forehead. I listen to the wind rustling through the leaves in the trees canopy above, comparing that estimated wind to how much wind is hitting me directly, to help me gauge the weather. I can judge how dense the forest is I am walking through by the lack of sounds. The more muffled, or lack of sounds carrying through the woods or forest, the denser the vegetation is around me.
Techniques of Walking with No Vision
I try to select areas where there are not very many steep ascents or descents on the trail with severe horizontal angles against the uphill or downhill vertical slopes. If the trail is wide enough, I walk side-by-side with my partner. I walk on the right hand side, since I am right handed and this is the hand I swing my long white cane with. I do not want to trip my partner while swinging my cane. I hold my white support cane in my left hand. I either feel the edge of the trail, a drop off, or the side of the mountain with my long cane as I swing it to the right. I use this right hand landmark as my guide as I walk forward. I then swing my long cane to the left, ensuring I do not bring it past my support cane in my left hand, so I do not bring it in front of my partner causing them to trip. I then repeat this cane swinging technique. I need to insure I swing my long cane in each direction, left to right, again and again, just above the ground to check for any obstacles and drastic changes in terrain. Moving my support cane forward as I swing my long cane to the right enables me to keep an even rhythm and pace as I walk.
If the trail is narrow I walk either ahead of or directly behind my partner. Behind my partner is best, so I can have the extra auditory senses of following the sounds of their footsteps. I also like to talk with my partner, from time to time as we walk so I can follow their voice. I am also listening to the sound of my partner’s feet as they hit the ground. I can hear if they are walking on hard packed soil, through puddles or mud, loose gravel, sandy or rocky types of surfaces, or stepping on branches. By gauging what the trail surface is going to be like I will then be ready to make any adjustment in my footing I might need to make when I take my next step. Even with listening to my partner’s footsteps, I need to be prepared to step on rocks, branches or off camber slopes, and to adjust my footing smoothly and brace myself quickly with my support cane if I start to stumble or trip on large obstacles, as not to fall or injure my ankles. This is why it is best to have good hiking boots with adequate soles with plenty of traction and excellent ankle support, when you can’t see where you are walking.
* Obtain your doctors approval prior to going on any hike
* Bring any food, water and medication you might need
* Acquire any training and therapy you might need prior to your trip
* Wear comfortable hiking boots with good support
* Dress in layers so you can adjust for weather conditions as you walk
* Wear a day pack to carry your supplies
* Bring a cell phone just in case you are in range of a cell site
Does anyone else enjoy hiking? Do you have any special challenge or a disability that requires you to modify the way you enjoy hiking? Have any stories you want to share with us? Any tips to help us enjoy nature and hiking? We all look forward to hearing from you.
Contributing Author, Global Dialogue Center