For the week of June 30, 1999  thru July 6, 1999  

Happy camping depends on mountain safety

Hikers should plan before they head up the trail

Express Staff Writer

u30pack.jpg (16416 bytes)Campers using equipment such as maps, poles and compasses are less likely to run into danger in the backcountry.

Backcountry hiking in south-central Idaho is a hedonist’s dream come true, but the experience can become nightmarish if precautions are not taken.

A nightmare unfolded last week for a Ketchum woman who got lost in Chocolate Gulch north of Ketchum. Eight members of the Blaine County Search and Rescue Team found the woman at dawn, huddled in the cold. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant night of camping for the ill-prepared hiker.

The genuine, backcountry hedonist knows that pleasure depends on precautions.

The obvious is often overlooked. Search and Rescue conducts similar searches for injured or lost hikers about once a month, according to Search and Rescue Commander Greg Sage.

Muffy Ritz, of Team Idaho, the local team of athletes that competes in international endurance events like the Discovery Channel’s Eco-Challenge, and outdoor retailer Nappy Neaman of The Elephant’s Perch, offered reminders of the obvious and not-so-obvious for backcountry hikers.

Get on the horn. Any backcountry excursion—especially if it is a solo trip—should begin with an arrangement to call someone upon return.

"The call-back is huge," said Neaman, who has been outfitting mountain hikers for over six years.

In addition to arranging a call, hikers should tell family or friends where they are hiking or, at the very least, where they plan to park.

That information can assist Search and Rescue members should their services be required.

Don’t neglect the whistle. A whistle can help sound an alarm and alert other hikers if there is an emergency.

Neaman conceded that the whistle is easily overlooked because it is not needed often.

"But I guarantee that if you were in the wilderness and you kept hearing a whistle blowing, you would investigate," Neaman said.

Lighten your load. "Unless you’re a beast, don’t carry too much weight," Ritz said. "Go as light as you can."

Packs can be lightened, for example, by carrying a water filter instead of an excessive number of water bottles—as long as a water source is available en route.

Remember to water. Dehydration is the biggest problem for tourists going into the back country, according to Neaman.

"The night before they go out, they’re pounding wine," Neaman said. "The next thing they know, they’re on the trail and dehydrated."

Dehydration is a problem for tourists and locals alike, Neaman said, because hikers tend to hydrate after hiking, instead of before.

Find a log and take a break. Neaman recommends hikers take a break every hour or for every 1,000 vertical feet ascended.

"And don’t just stop on the trail," Neaman said. "Sit on your butt and get off your legs."

When it comes to food, stick to the same old, same old. For fuel, Neaman recommends that hikers pack foods that are familiar to the body.

"Don’t experiment with new foods or drinks," Neaman said. "Take only what you’ve already tried. Otherwise you might shock your system."

Grab some poles. Poles can help displace some of the weight from the legs to the upper body muscles.

"Hips and knees take a beating, especially on the descent," Neaman said. "Unless you have something in your hand, you can’t use your upper body muscles to relieve the pain to hips and legs."

Stick to duct tape. Duct tape can be the mountain hiker’s salvation. Nothing irritates a hiker quite like a foot blister, and nothing works quite as well to alleviate blister discomfort as well as duct tape, according to Neaman.

Rather than packing a roll of duct tape, a strip can be wrapped around a water bottle or taped to the backpack and used later if needed.

Pack a kit. In addition to duct tape, a first-aid kit with large wound pads, gauze, tape, antiseptic for cleaning out wounds, aspirin and scissors or a Swiss Army knife is a good idea.

Ritz spent five days in a hospital because she didn’t have a good first-aid kit on a hike up Mt. Cramer.

Twelve miles in, she sliced her leg on a rock and had to use a T-shirt to wrap the wound, which became infected.

"You never know what could happen out there," Ritz said.

Know your place. A compass and maps are indispensable on an extended hike.

Ritz and The Elephant’s Perch are offering classes in orienteering—traveling via map and compass—on July 22, August 19 and September 16. Each course is free of charge.

Buy a flight on Life Flight. Insurance is available from Life Flight, the helicopter transport service. For an annual membership fee of $50, a household will be covered for the cost of the flight if any member requires Life Flight’s services. Membership information is available at 800-574-9464.

Become unattractive to lightning. Lightning strikes often enough to be a problem for back-country hikers. During a storm, do not stand at the high point in an area or under a large tree. In an open area, it is best to squat on top of the backpack, which will provide insulation from the ground.


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