Hiking - Outdoor Basics to Keep You Safe

How to have a safe hike into the mountains or forest. Outdoor tips to keep you safe when you venture off the road.

   I live in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge located in Washington State. Hiking, wind surfing, fishing, hunting, photography are just a few of the recreational opportunities available to residents and visitors alike. Despite the beauty of the area. An unusually high number of locals and visitors alike seem to find themselves in all forms of distressful situations. Hikers, fisherman, hunters and even berry pickers often find themselve lost or injured and unable to self rescue. Unexpected over night stays are not uncommon. Some rescues have serious injuries and harsh terrain to contend with. We often see Life Flight heading into the mountains to retrieve another injured adventurer.  Most often the rescues have happy outcomes for friends and family. But too often there are tragic endings. Hence the motivation for this article.

    On getting lost, the old advice is still the best. If you get turned around, just stop and stay where you are. Usually by the time you admit you are lost its too late. Still the best thing to do is to stay put. Try to make the best of your situation. Seek some sort of shelter or protection. Often a rock overhang or even just some kind of break from the wind will go a long ways to help you hold on until help arrives. Don't despair even the most ardent woodsman can get turned around. Keep  your head, don't panic. It won't do any good if you do.

Your good sense in being prepared, will help you focus on what logical steps to take and ensure your safe return. Your family and friends will feel much better knowing you are a safe, serious hiker and outdoors person. Just providing that kind of comfort to your loved ones should motivate you to view your safety as the first priority when taking to the trail.

    Just as Solomon states in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, ... "Time and unforeseen occurrence befalls them all." (Ec. 9:11)  How true, rocks roll, limbs fall from trees, wildlife goes wild, and sometimes you just fall down and get hurt. Whatever it is, all you can do is to prepare as best you can. No matter how short the planned adventure is, always incorporate these tips. I will list them in the order, that I consider most important. (You may disagree, and that is OK with me, just give it some thought). Of course a lot of what you decide to do will depend on local terrain, weather conditions (season) and your unique abilities. 

I suggest the following:

  • Always provide another, living, breathing person with,  your expected route; trail head location; departure and arrival time. Be specific and put it in writing.
  • Always have these essentials when leaving the road: (1) A decent pack. (2) Cell phone or even a walkie talkie, they have at times helped. (3) Adequate clothing for current conditions. (4) Water and something to eat. (5) Fire starting items such as, a lighter, matches or magnesium stick. (6) Toilet paper. ( You will be sorry if you ignore this. You can use it to start a fire if needed.) (7) A good knife or a good quality multi- tool. (Like Leatherman, Gerber or SOG.)  (8) Suitable first aid kit or customize one for your personal needs.
  • A current map of the area. I always take a compass, but some prefer a GPS. The Spot Satellite Navigation System looks promising. For maximum security you might want to check it out at www.findmespot.com.  While some purists object to all the new technology; it is easy to reject when you are home reading your National Geographic. But if you are laying in a ravine with two broken legs it might start looking pretty good.
  • A safety whistle can be used in all sorts of situations. Get the loudest one made. The Storm Whistle is my first choice,  you can buy them at www.wind-storm-whistle.com . They can be used for wildlife encounters, and as a distress signal (blow in bursts of three.) Anyone should have one of these at their disposal when walking alone, they can be heard for up to 1/2 mile.  If you can't get access to the Storm Whistle, a good Acme Thunderer may fit the bill. (If you or a loved one carry a safety whistle - please don't use them unless there is a real emergency. Make sure you children know it is a taboo to blow these just for fun. (Timber fallers and others used these to signal distress. Often they would work alone in the woods,  separated by a hundred yards or more. No one would think to use their safety whistle unless it was an extreme emergency, like being pinned by a log or a severe cut that needed immediate life saving first aid. Of course silence was just as often a signal for help. If their saw wasn't heard from for too long a period, a quick visit was required to make sure they were all right.)
  • A signal mirror could be included to signal rescue crews or overhead aircraft.
  • If dangerous wildlife is expected, in addition to your Storm Whistle, you should have a full can of Bear Pepper Spray. (www.udap.com is one source for Pepper Spray.) Please don't carry this in your pack, it should be readily accessible. You will only have a second or two to use it (maybe less). (Be sure to store this stuff in a safe place, secure from kids or pets.)  Note: Different animals have different reactions to the pepper spray, please familiarize yourself with its effectiveness in this regard. (It does appear to be very effective on most humans. Although it may not be legal to defend yourself with it in different locales. Check with your local law enforcement as to its use. Please note I am not saying this is good or bad. It is just the way it is.)
  • A  fire arm is essential in some areas. But they are only as good as the person using them. Even hunters armed with high powered weaponry have lost their battle to lightning quick animal attacks. If in dangerous territory keep your wits about you. Travel noisily - let the bears, cats or wolves know you are in the area. This is your best defense. If you come upon a kill, (dead deer, elk or moose, or anything else that is dead),  back out the way you came and leave immediately.

     We could go on. But you get the idea. Really just take the time to think ahead, consider the various predicaments you might encounter, and prepare accordingly.  You may want to add some items to the list, but I would caution taking any less. Especially if you frequently travel alone. Obviously there is safety in numbers. But two can get just as lost as one. How often have you heard of this conversation. "Where are we?" ... "I don't know, I thought you knew!"  I humbly admit to getting, well not lost,  but getting turned around a little bit. It happens to almost everyone, experienced and beginner alike.

    One last thing you need. This is important.  Its just plain old 'common sense'. This stops you from walking out to the edge of a cliff to see what is on the bottom. It  keeps you from baiting your kids arm up with peanut butter so you can get a picture of the nice bear licking it off. When you ignored the tip about taking along some toilet paper, it what stops you from reaching over and using the nice shiny leaves off the poison oak to clean your bottom.  And most of all it prevents you from over ruling  that voice in your head that always, always  asks ... "Is this really a good idea?" That's 'common sense', don't leave home without it.

    

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