There are two different kinds of hikers: the prepared and the unprepared. The simple fact is most “unpredictable” emergency situations happening while hiking aren’t truly unpredictable. The problem is: many hikers don’t have the knowledge to handle certain hiking situations.
Five unpredictable hiking situations and how to handle them
Keeping in mind the best way to deal with most “unpredictable” dangers is by predicting them, the following looks at five hiker emergencies you might face.
In much of the Southwestern United States, brush and forest fires are very common. If you’re traveling through these areas, you need to take precautions and have an evacuation plan. Keep the following in mind:
- Check out the forecast before you set out. Fires are more likely when temperatures are soaring and winds are strong.
- Give your schedule and planned route to someone you can trust, making sure to let them know when you’ve returned.
If you’re actually caught in a forest or brush fire, there are certain steps you need to take immediately to improve your chances of survival.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If a fire is approaching your location, there’s a good chance you’ll hear it or smell it before you see flames or even smoke.
- Avoid panicking. Take a moment to consider your options before you act. You don’t want to run into danger.
- Take note of the wind direction. This will tell you in which direction the fire will most likely be moving. Determine the best evacuation route and take it.
- Rivers, lakes, gullies or large clearings can provide you with a degree of safety.
- Wet a bandanna or shirt and cover your nose and mouth with it. This is particularly useful if you’re forced to take cover in a firebreak. Lie face down as close to the ground as possible to minimize smoke inhalation.
If you’re going to be in areas where lightning strikes are common, remember these points:
- Check the forecast before you leave.
- Avoid hilltops or exposed ridges, which are especially vulnerable to a lightning strike.
- Look for quick changes in the weather, since weather forecasters are sometimes wrong.
- If hairs are standing up on your body, this means electricity is filling the air around you. Drop to the ground and lie as flat as possible.
- During lightning, keep away from tall trees and any metal items in your camp. Also stay away from bodies of water and muddy soaked ground.
After someone has been struck by lightning, you need to call for emergency assistance immediately if you can. Beyond this, first aid will be necessary until help arrives.
- Find a safer location if there is a risk of more lightning or if the victim is in a dangerous spot. Move the victim away from danger if it can be done safely.
- If the victim is unconscious and not breathing, begin CPR.
Another danger when in the mountains on snowy slopes is the risk of avalanches. Regardless of the degree of incline, any snow-covered slope can potentially slide. Consider the following:
- Stay away from dangerous looking slopes. Obviously, the steeper it is the greater the chance of an avalanche.
- Educate yourself regarding the warning signs for avalanches.
- Since weather affects the likelihood of avalanche, keep apprised of the latest forecast and check the local authorities about dangerous areas.
Sudden Heavy Rains
Unexpected heavy rains can represent a real danger. It’s easy enough to deal with some rain issues, such as protecting your feet from the dampness. Get to know how to waterproof leather boots, it will come in handy, and be on the lookout for flash floods. For floods, do the following:
- Again, check the weather before you go. Make sure you know which areas you are traveling through – such as lake beds, stream beds or canyons – will be prone to flash floods.
- Never camp in any location – such as the ones mentioned above – where flash floods are possible.
- If a flash flood occurs, find a safe, higher spot and stay there until the water levels go down.
Unexpected snow is another of the dangers you can face while hiking. This is one of those hazards that can usually be avoided by checking the weather. Just in case, do the following:
- Let someone know where you are going, especially if you’re going alone.
- Take a communications device with you. It can be a cell phone or an emergency transponder.
- Even if it’s a clear day, when hiking in the mountains carry warm clothing.
- If you don’t have a tent and snow starts pouring down, you need to know how to make a temporary shelter in a snow bank.
As noted by Geoffrey Mohan when he and his son were coming back down from a chilly climb in which snow had started pouring down at the top, having the right gear is important. “It was a perfect Southern California day. Late-starting hikers looked the part. Most wore sneakers, and a few wore shorts.” Try to avoid being one of these people.
About the Writer: Amanda Wilks is a passionate writer, a contributing author for ThePaintballProfessor.com, motivational lifestyle blogger and sports activist. She has a keen interest in everything related to health, sports and self-improvement, and she writes on these topics with every occasion she finds.