Safety in the Northwest Wilderness

tn_c09_folding_camp_knifeThe Pacific Northwest offers many great opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, swimming, camping and water-skiing are just a few of the outdoor activities you can enjoy during the summer months. However, even the most innocent-seeming outdoor summer activities may have a few hidden dangers you will want to consider. By remembering a few simple safety procedures and stocking up on proper emergency supplies you can guarantee a safe and fun summer for yourself and your family.

The first step in providing yourself and your family with proper outdoor summer safety is knowing the dangers that may be waiting for you. Aggressive wildlife, unpredictable weather, and dangerous terrain all pose serious threats. Keep abreast of what sort of dangers are specific to the area you will be enjoying, and keep an eye out for them.

Wildlife
There are a number of species of potentially dangerous wildlife that call the Pacific Northwest home. Cougars are one of these animals. Though quite elusive, there are reported instances of cougars attacking humans. The best way to avoid being attacked if you cross paths with a cougar is to make yourself appear larger than it. Do not run or turn your back. Talk calmly and firmly to the animal; make it think you are a predator, not its prey.

Bears are another animal you may face in the Pacific Northwest. Most bear encounters happen in campsites; the bears usually are looking for food that has been left out. The best way to avoid a bear encounter is to securely store food in airtight containers or your vehicle. If a bear does come into your camp, try to scare it away by making noise. If that doesn’t work, get to safety and let the bear have what it came for.

Poisonous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, are also fairly common in the Pacific Northwest. Rattlesnakes like hot, dry areas, so if you are hiking or camping in a desert-like terrain, be on the lookout. Stay on clearly marked trails and stay away from rocks, holes, or other places a rattler may be hiding. Remember, you will be able to hear a rattler before you see one.

Weather
The weather can also pose a serious threat if you are unprepared. The two most common outdoor weather-related problems are hypothermia and dehydration.

Hypothermia is the number one killer in the outdoors. It can occur over a period of time or very quickly. It can even occur during mild temperatures. Prevent hypothermia by layering wool and synthetic fabrics for warmth and protection from the wind and rain. Always wear a hat, as almost half of body heat is lost through the head. Bring rain gear and extra layers to change into should you get wet, and make sure your shoes or boots are water-proof and warm.

Dehydration is another common weather-related problem, but is probably the easiest to avoid. Many people think that dehydration only occurs in hot climates. This is simply not true. Dehydration can occur in any situation, so it is always important to carry plenty of water and take short, frequent water breaks if you are engaging in strenuous outdoor activities.

Terrain
There are often situation-specific dangers you may face while spending time in the wilderness. Off-trail hiking is popular in the Northwest, but without the proper clothing, equipment or planned route, it is very easy to get lost. Make sure you have maps of the area you will be exploring, have a compass (and know how to use it), and tell friends or family members where you plan to be.

River-crossing is another danger that many hikers don’t plan for. Always look for alternative routes over the river. If you must cross through the river or stream, make sure you unbuckle the waist belt of your backpack and loosen the shoulder straps. Locking arms with a friend or using a long walking stick will help you keep your balance. And crossing the river diagonally, going slightly with the current, will make the cross easier.

Supplies
There are a number of supplies that are essential for a safer summer outdoor vacation. These include: extra warm clothing, extra food, a compass, a first aid kit, a candle or fire starter, matches or a lighter, a pocket knife, sunglasses and sunscreen, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a map of the area you will be in. These items will prepare you for common problems hikers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts often face. You may want to take along other non-essential items as well. A tent, of course, is a very useful and common item to have while hiking or camping in the Pacific Northwest. A hatchet or large hunting knife may come in useful if you need to prepare firewood, mark a trail, or defend yourself from a predator. Rain gear is also a smart idea. Even if the forecast is for sunny skies, having rain-resistant clothing and shelter is recommended.

Summer in the Pacific Northwest can be a lot of fun. It can also be filled with danger if you are not well-prepared. Use common sense and good judgment — and keep these safety tips in mind — and your outdoor adventures should be safe for you and your loved ones.

~Ben Nystrom, 2009

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