Advice on Hiking
Online, the National Park Service offers these suggestions for people planning to hike the Billy Goat Trail, Section A:
It is a very physically demanding trail. If you have doubts about your physical ability to climb over angled rocks and boulders, consider one of the park’s less strenuous trails.
Allow enough time to finish entire hike before sunset
Be prepared for weather changes and extremes
Carry and drink adequate fluids
Do not drink water from streams, river or canal
Wear sturdy hiking shoes
Stay on trail and do not travel alone
Stay off slippery rocks and cliff faces
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service personnel were busier than usual the last few weeks along the Billy Goat Trail in the C&O National Historical Park. Specifically they were called to help with hikers along the Billy Goat Trail Section A, a 4.7 mile circuit starting on one end near Great Falls Tavern and winding around to just above Wide Water, upriver from Old Anglers Inn.
The frequency of calls is “even epidemic,” said Pete Piringer, spokesman for MCFRS.
“It got really busy in the last 10 days,” Piringer said on July 6. “We’ve had about 20 calls for service, mostly for trips and falls.”
He said they have also had a few calls for hikers suffering from heat exhaustion, especially at the end of June when temperatures were higher than normal.
“The sense is the Billy Goat A Trail is one of the most challenging in the United States,” he said. “You have to jump crevices and climb rocks. Once you get to a certain point there is a sign that says [the trail] is difficult, if you are not up to the challenge, turn around.”
Piringer said that is a warning to take seriously. There are several hikes along the C&O Canal that do not require the physical stamina of Billy Goat Trail A.
He suggests visitors to the park talk to rangers about other hiking paths or go online and read the “Know before You Go” guidelines published by the National Park Service.
Piringer said MCFRS works closely with the National Park Service to learn about the trails in the C&O Canal National Historical Park; MCFRS is responsible for rescues in the park and the Potomac River. Their partnership resulted in a reduction in drownings in the river which Piringer attributes to getting the word out to the community that the river is unsafe for swimming, and posting signs in different languages throughout the park telling of the dangers of the water.
“We used to have double digit drownings,” Piringer said. “So we got signage in different places, all a coordinated effort with the Park Service.”
He also said the Park Service Rescue helicopter assists in all rescue calls, to be there for support and, sometimes, to take an injured or dehydrated hiker to a local hospital.
Potomac’s Cabin John Park fire stations 10 on River Road and 30 on Falls Road are first responders to calls for rescues along the Billy Goat Trail.
“Our response is pretty quick,” Piringer said.
As for his suggestions for hikers, he said they should wear proper hiking footwear and carry plenty of water and a charged cell phone.
“There are trail markers, know where you are,” Piringer said. “That helps us get to you more quickly.”