Venturing out into the wilderness is an Adventurers bread and butter. Camping, hiking, climbing, it’s an integral part of leading a Life of Adventure.
Preparation for that adventure, however, could be the difference between an adrenaline-fueled forest excursion and a life-or-death situation.
Here are the most common forest dangers and how to deal with them.
Our bodies only work in a narrow range of temperatures. If the temperature is too high, you get heat stroke. If it’s too low, you will get hypothermia. Hypothermia and any ailment caused by temperature is dangerous and possibly deadly.
Few people think they will fall victim to hypothermia, and aren’t careful about staying warm on a normal trip into the woods. To the everyday Adrenalist, protecting themselves from this forest danger is the last thing on their mind, leaving them vulnerable to the cold. This is especially true after being exposed to rain and the elements.
While you may be strong enough to trudge through mild hypothermia, it’s important to recognize the symptoms immediately and keep yourself from slipping further into it.
The problem with hypothermia is that your ability to think clearly and motor skills are the first to go. Basically, your ability to coherently get yourself out of the situation is what you lose first.
People in the haze of hypothermia make bad choices that lead them to greater risk and danger. As it progresses, you begin to feel foggy and it becomes difficult to speak clearly. You’ll begin slurring your speech, feeling numbness in your fingers and be unable to move them individually.
This inability to think leads you deeper into the woods when you should turn around, or to neglect to change out of wet clothes when you need to get warm.
Eventually, if night comes and it gets colder, your body temperature can drop dangerously low. If you feel any of these symptoms do all you can to get warm. Once you lose the heat, it’s hard to get it back. Change out of wet clothing immediately and build a fire if you have the resources.
A common occurrence while hiking in the woods or camping in the forest is to unintentionally get Poison Oak’s oil on your hand, and then spread it around to other parts of your body.
Poison Oak is a small shrub that likes to grow in moist and shady spots. It looks a lot like blackberries, without the spines. The key to spotting it is to note the rule of three: three leaves clustered together, with a wavy pattern on the leaves, and a waxy sheen to the whole plant. Often the stem of the plant or the leaves will be reddish, but this isn’t always true.
Extremely bad cases can require medical attention and even a cortisone injection, or a course of medication. The worst cases are when a plant is accidentally eaten, or if its smoke is inhaled.
Inhaling the smoke will cause horrible, and painful irritation of your lungs. It’s easy enough to mistake dried poison oak for another plant and to use it in starting a campfire, so be careful about the shrubs you choose to ignite your flame.
The best thing to do is just avoid poison oak if you can, and don’t trek directly through shrubs if you suspect it’s full of this vicious plant. Be familiar with the way it looks so you’re ready to steer clear. If you do get it on your skin try to wash it off with soap and water.
The sooner the better, before the chemical in the plant binds to your skin. If you’re quick, ordinary soap will work. If you’ve waited, Tecnu, a special soap, will help wash the oil off. If you don’t have Tecnu, mechanics soap, like GOJO, works just as well.
ANIMALS AND BUGS
While most animals you’re likely to encounter in the woods won’t pose a threat, you could find yourself facing serious forest dangers if you stumble upon certain beasts. A prime example is the Grizzly bear. Grizzlies are incredibly violent and aren’t afraid to take on any human man.
Most importantly, you will not want to get between a mother and her bear cub. Get out of the area immediately if you spot a grizzly in the distance. Avoid any chance at making eye contact and try not to make a lot of noise.
Thankfully, bear attacks are relatively rare. At Yellowstone, famous for its bears, bison are responsible for three times as many attacks and injuries.
Another fearsome animal that can give campers a scare is the mountain lion. These guys like to sneak up behind their prey, totally silent, then pounce and break the neck in one bite.
Again, attacks and deaths are extremely rare, with only about 20 deaths in over 100 years in the US, but watch out if you’re in a mountainous wooded area known for mountain lions. They are predominately located in the Western United States, as illustrated by this map by Animal Files.
We’ve covered the less-likely threats, now here are some surprisingly common North-American forest dangers: rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes bite 800 people a year in California alone. The bite may not be a sure death sentence, but they will make you wish you were dead. They are excruciating and the anti-venom is almost as poisonous as the actual poison.
Keep an eye out also for small animals that can pose a non-fatal but nonetheless significant danger. Ticks, for example, are little bugs that like to hitch a ride on your skin and drink your blood. They can potentially give you Lyme disease, a severely disabling illness.
Lyme disease is easy enough to treat if you catch it early, but if not, it can cause huge weight loss, heart problems and neurological problems. These insidious bugs are widespread across the U.S., especially in the Northeast region.
Need more info on animal attacks? Here is a complete guide to defending wild animal attacks for next your next adventure in the woods.
There’s a sign the park service has put up on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It shows a healthy, fit man with a powerful warning that reads, “every year we rescue hundreds of people from the Canyon. Most of them look like him.”
The point is that people over exert themselves and find that they’ve pushed their body too far. A list of forest dangers would not be complete without pointing out that our greatest victim often lies in ourselves.
We always encourage Adrenalists to push the limits, but you must also understand just how much you are capable of without a hospital and civilization to go home to. Prepare for your excursions with regular exercise.
Seek healthy foods on your trip, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest. Bring all the equipment you will need for any mountain to climb, river to cross or campfire to light.
Be mindful of your surroundings at all times, and be ready to act decisively if forest dangers approach. Mother Nature doesn’t send warnings, and Mother Nature doesn’t wait for you, so act smart.