How many times have you gone into the wilderness and expected an emergency to take place? What we mean is serious injury. No one typically expects it, yet a serious injury happens every year to people in every state and region. We are talking about serious injuries with regards to wilderness survival and how to prevent them.
Thunderstorms And Lightning
Some mountains systems are known for creating their own weather. That means that local news may predict clear weather down in the lowlands, but tall mountains can have sudden storms roll in, for any number of factors, and catch a camper, backpacker, or hunter by surprise. In the city, in a lightning storm, people simply head indoors. But in the mountains or forest, what are you going to do when lightning bolts sizzle across the sky, knowing one or more may strike in your vicinity? Lightning Storms – In the mountains, lightning storms are reported to strike most often in the afternoons, so it’s a good idea in questionable weather to get your hiking done early, so you can be off the mountain.
If a sudden thunderstorm rolls in, your best move is to turn back and head to shelter. Better safe than sorry. If that is not an option, at the least get inside a closed car or truck, and sit away from the sides, and do not use anything electrical like a radio, CB, cell phone booster, cell phone charger, etc. If lightning strikes a car it will travel along the exterior, and drop into the ground. So you are typically safe inside a vehicle with the windows rolled up.
How to tell a lightning strike is imminent – A “positive streamer” will occur, a tingling sensation where your hair may seem to stand on end as the electrons in the air collect underneath the storm clouds and the sudden charge your body has taken can precede a sudden lightning strike that hits in the direct area you are standing. Take a deep breath and stand on the balls of your feet, crouching, and continue to hold your breath, trying not to breath. This can lessen the impact a lightning strike can have on your body.
Slip And Fall
If you’re several miles into the wilderness, and on an early season or late season hike, you may be the only hiker for several miles. A slip and fall injury can result in a sprained ankle, broken foot, bruised or broken knee — and now you’re in trouble.
Carry elastic bandages – these are the kind of bandages typically used for healing a light sprain. A severe sprain may call for two of these bandages, one wrapped over the other, to increase support for the sprain.
Let’s assume that you are out of range of calling on a cell phone for help, and that you’re not carrying a satellite phone. Even if you are, wouldn’t you rather hobble your way out of the wilderness on one leg and make-shift crutches, then call for help and end up with a hefty bill to local search and rescue services to pay for the helicopter that was sent up to find you? Most of us would be smart to tend to our own wounds, regarding any sprain. (A broken knee or broken leg however is another story … it might not be possible to hobble out on a broken knee, though you can try, if you can make a good crutch easily.)
Making a crutch – When using a crutch to walk, two crutches are a lot more effective than one crutch. You may have to crawl around on the ground for a few minutes, but many wilderness areas have fallen trees and tree limbs you can scavenge.
Some of the most obvious warnings about the danger of forest fires need to be included here. First, research the region you plan to be in, and get to know the forest fire dangers. Some places have little danger of forest fire, but other places have a high danger.
In areas of high danger of forest fire, choose a route for your travels that offers escape from fire, in any direction that fire may be coming from. If fire is coming from a higher elevation, then you simply need to move to a lower elevation, and get out of dodge as soon as possible. But any time fire is coming from a lower elevation, now you have to be careful on what route you choose to escape, as canyons and chutes in foothills and mountains can act as chimneys, carrying heat and flames quickly to higher elevations, especially in times of high winds.
If a forest fire is catching up on your position, ask yourself a few questions fast: Which way is the wind blowing? What direction is the heat moving? What geographical features in the landscape will hinder a forest fire’s travel (lakes, wide river, tall ridge line, wide open meadow), and which features (canyons, chutes, dense forest) will encourage the fire’s growth, and the path it takes?
The correct answer to these questions can help you choose the best path of escape, so that the fire misses you completely. The wrong decision can leave you at a dead-end, with a forest fire quickly catching up on your position. Heat from the approaching flames can melt your lungs, killing you before your clothes have even caught fire. Dense smoke can choke you and kill you. Avoiding all three, heat, smoke, and flames are essential steps to take to survive.
Sometimes hypothermia can happen when you least expect it. A late spring camping trip for example, when the weather is warm and sunny during the day, but unexpectedly the temperature drops to near freezing late at night. This leaves you cold and shivering in your tent, under prepared for the sudden drop in temperature. This is the mountains, remember?
Exercise – Push ups, jumping jacks, picking up really heavy rocks and doing squat exercises, running in place — all of these can be used to help get your blood pumping, and get temporary and immediate warmth to your extremities, which in the early stages of hypothermia are lacking adequate blood flow to keep you warm.
Another great exercise and one that makes more sense for your emergency situation: Look for downed trees and large, dry logs that you can begin building a burn pile with. Move quickly to collect twigs and sticks. Only take this step if you actually have the means to start a fire or you know how to start a fire the primitive way (which if you’re anywhere near the wilderness, you should have multiple ways — a couple lighters, box of wooden matches, emergency candle, emergency fire starter, etc.
Giardia is one of the most common waterborne parasites that people can encounter in the wilderness. It is found in lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. Infection occurs when contaminated water is ingested, that has not been filtered (or boiled, etc.) specifically to remove or kill any giardia. Infection can last several weeks and typically clear up within six weeks. It can also be spread from person to person contact and through food that has come in contact with something contaminated with giardia — such as washing off produce in a river. Giardia symptoms are diarrhea, bloating, cramps, weight loss, and nausea. Preventing Giardia – Go out of your way to always boil or filter water from outdoor sources, and be familiar with the best ways to filter and or purify water when away from civilization.
Dangerous animals like mountain lions and wolves typically shy away from people and will avoid you, though a dangerous encounter with a mountain lion or pack of wolves can happen. Fire is a common method of scaring away animals – if you’re on foot though, then the only way to have fire with you is to have a torch. If you’re in camp, obviously a campfire would be the way to go.
Grizzly Bears – When in grizzly country, odds are greatly increased of a dangerous encounter. It’s important to understand grizzly bear behavior, and what places they are most likely to frequent (near streams, near berry patches — especially when berries are ripe, so pay attention — also the edges of meadows, and any time you spot any type of dead carcass realize a grizzly may not be far off. Again, be extra alert in these areas so you can be ready for a grizzly attack. A grizzly can charge you, spotting you before you spot the bear. Grizzlies can move fast, and attack with little warning. Around camp keep food stored far away from where you sleep — tents should be as far away as 100 yards from where you cook and store food (store that food high in the trees, using rope, etc.). After you’ve packed up camp and are on the trail, don’t carry open food with you — open food will have the strongest smells, and winds can carry the smell of food you’re carrying in the direction of dangerous and hungry grizzlies.