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National Park deaths across the US have skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, due to people falling from extreme heights.
There are numerous, recent stories in the news related to clueless people – falling to their deaths, just for a selfie-photo in front of a great viewpoint, that I am simply stunned by the numbers. Tumbling into waterfalls, getting lost in the woods, or just vanishing without a trace. Naive people trying to “pet” wildlife and getting hurt in the process.
Drowning is the most common cause of death inside National Parks, followed by auto accidents and falling from extreme heights.
Social media is the number one driver in a destination’s popularity, and the amount of accidental deaths in parklands. Recently there has been a 90% increase in vehicle accidents, a 60% rise in calls for ambulance and a 130% rise in searches and rescues.
With so many stories surfacing and avoidable tragedies happening, that I feel compelled to write a post about the inherent dangers of the outdoors. Not just the bears, but all of it.
Sometimes you have a fraction of a second to make a life-or-death decision. Unfortunately many things in life are not 100% safe. We cannot simply close nature down.
The advice here is only some of the basics.
Wear proper footwear, understand where danger lies, obey warning signs and know the limits of your own physical ability.
Running shoes are suitable for most trails, but hiking boots are usually better. Never hike in flip-flops and if you must hike in sandals, make sure to get ‘sport sandals’ with traction soles, arch support, plus secure, sturdy straps.
Seems like good reasoning to those middle-aged, who can remember time without the digital age of distractions. For the rest, who have been staring at a smartphone or video game for most of life, this here is life preserving advice. So listen up.
It used to be called ‘common sense’ – and we learned it at a very young age, with overbearing parents, rules, restrictions and reckless playing outdoors (most everyday). Many hours away from home, off on your own and exploring. Falling, scraping knees, taking a tumble off the bike. Living and learning through experience.
Since many children now grow up totally sheltered, in an indoor environment, looking at screens all day, and existing primarily in cyber space – I guess social media isn’t teaching us the basics on how to survive outdoors and in real life.
Unless of course, you gravitate to those specific channels/videos on wilderness survival (bushcraft), outdoor safety, map reading skills, terrain, protection, wildlife, etc.
The hip, cute camping couple with the custom van build (and unlimited funds) may seem entertaining and cool, but are they offering something of substance? Are you learning anything valuable, or just watching someone else travel?
DEATH and injury are always a factor when enjoying wild and natural places. Lightning can strike you, a wild animal can attack, you could fall off a cliff, you could injure yourself, slip into the river or you can get lost – and die. Happens all the time, especially in the mountainous, extra large land of California.
WILD, naturally means uncontrollable.
(animal, weather, water or location)
This nature experience you crave is not a video game, nor movie on a screen; This experience is real, raw and often dangerous. Being outdoors near wild animals, next to raging rivers, on dirt roads, on hiking trails, way away from society, has some risks involved.
HEED the WARNINGS
WATER is DEADLY overall in California: Waterfalls, rivers, creeks and lakes are dangerous due to numerous factors. While granite rock slides may be appealing in the Sierra Nevada mountains; Loosing your balance and cracking your skull on hard rock may change your life forever, if you can even get to the nearest hospital 100+ miles away.
Always know where & how far the nearest hospital is located. Not just the city name, but the physical location. This simple bit of knowledge is often overlooked by eager travelers, campers and hurried city folks looking to make the most of their time away.
The mighty Pacific Ocean is notorious for shark attacks, surfing accidents and drownings. Beach goers often forget the dangers of the ocean water, when kids, food and family are involved. Ocean swimming/surfing can be dangerous to your health (during big storms) with sewage river run-off.
Lakes and large recreational reservoirs are places where people love to relax and more often than not, drink alcoholic beverages. Deaths related to boating, jet skiing and tubing usually involve intoxication. When boating – wear a life vest.
White water river rafting is also a sport which has annual fatalities, but just wading near a raging rivers edge can be dangerous – if you loose your footing. Once gravity pulls you down, even if you are a “strong swimmer”, it is hard to manage the swiftness of the river. Waterways can be dangerous, so always wear a life vest.
COMFORTABLE CITY vs LIFE OUTDOORS:
Stay sheltered in your own, comfortable, safe space, with electricity, wifi, cell phone reception, air conditioning, plenty to eat and the hospital nearby.
Or you could choose to venture out beyond the unknown, if you have a good head on your shoulders. This is where education comes in, and we are not talking about typical higher learning.
Read all about the place you want to visit. The more remote a locale, the more you need to know about that area and it dangers.
Know your plan, tell someone and go out over prepared. Do the research online and off – for the destination you seek. Collect topo maps, talk to rangers on the phone, discuss trails and routes with other hikers or online; gather info well ahead of time, so you can get the gear to make such a trip into the wild a success.
always check the weather, as often as possible
carry a cell phone – with fully charged battery; , maybe even a backup recharger
automotive: top off coolant, oil, windshield washing fluid, check tire pressure. Tune up, especially for road trips. Carry jumper cables, abundant water and a tire patch kit.
know how to read a topographic map, outdoors (without cell phone signal and/or GPS)
get a first aid kit (review/restock it)
study and practice outdoor survival skills, even at home
traveling solo, always err on the side of caution.
Snakes are the least of your concern. Yes, rattlesnakes can be found on hiking trails and at campgrounds. Know how recognize a rattlers sound, where they may be hiding and what to do if you encounter one.
The small critters are often cute and very photogenic, but they are usually after the food you have. Do not feed the wildlife. Do not try to touch the animals. Heed all warning signs about raccoons stealing food. Aggressive squirrels can chew a hole your backpack and bite you, with the possibility of rabies. Desert burros take leather shoes, or marmots eat radiator hoses in your vehicle.
Mice or rodent droppings can carry the deadly hantavirus, so this means no sleeping on cave floors, picnicking under boulders or sweeping out old cabins or motorhomes (without a proper mask).
And always use the steel bear boxes for storing food when available.
Mountain Lions – generally avoid human contact if possible. There have been a few incidence over the decades where females or children mountain bikers have been attacked by wild cats, often known as cougars.
Know that mountain lions prefer to chase and catch their prey, which means speeding by them can trigger this reaction. And no, you cannot pedal faster than the wild animal.
Best tactic to avoid this situation is to make noise when enjoying the trails. Be noisy with vocals, talking, singing, bells on hiking boots and most animals will avoid the confrontation all together.
If however, you are camping alone at a remote location – and a big cat shows up, then you have to make your presence known, pretty loudly, possibly for hours. You may hear growls, hissing noises or high pitched squeals (mating calls) off in the near distance, which means you might be camping next to a favorite meadow where this big cat hunts for food.
Stay awake and aware of what area the mountain lion is patrolling. Make loud noises, yell, sing, fire your gun off and/or bang on metal objects. Cranking loud music works to drive away wildlife, but don’t totally forget that there is a large predator nearby. Keep alert throughout the night for any new activity in camp and be prepared to defend yourself with a weapon.
Parents used to tell their children “don’t talk to strangers” as that single act could lead to predators taking advantage of a situation. Whether it is a ride they need, directions, a cigarette or perhaps an invite extended to join them, keep it short and polite, but firm. Don’t go off traveling with them, if you just met. Don’t get inside their vehicle. Offer to make a phone call for them, if they need the sheriff or rangers.
Any lengthy conversation with an unknown person can lead to a new friendship, perhaps, or a serial killer. California has always been a haven for crime, due to the massive population. During the 1970-1980’s the Golden State had a news story of abductions, missing girls or murder sprees almost every week. These days mass shootings have taken over the spotlight.
Need help, try asking officials if they are around. Park rangers, camp host, store clerks, road crews, utility workers. Keep it short when asking for directions with total strangers. Never tell anyone you meet – your plans, destination or itinerary. If they seem trustworthy and you are not traveling alone, you have more flexibility and can use better judgement.
Police departments patrol cities, whereas in rural areas, law enforcement is served by the county Sheriff. Always know what county you are located in. In National Parks, National Forests, BLM, State Parks and Wildlife Refuges personnel patrolling are called rangers.
Bring local phone numbers written down and in your wallet. Cell phone service (to look these things up online) is spotty and often non-existent when traveling the backcountry roads. Prepare and plan like you don’t own a smartphone.