WHAT TO REALLY FEAR IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS
For some folks, spending a night camping in the wilderness can be a little frightening. Every sound is a reminder that just outside camp, in the cold darkness, lurk ferocious beasts, bears, snakes, lions, all waiting for you to step outside your tent.
Who hasn’t felt the hairs on the back of their neck stand up at the scary feeling that something out there is watching? But consider this: Statistically, a person is more likely to be killed by mouse droppings or mosquitoes than by bears and mountain lions, and even snakes.
It’s not that there isn’t anything to fear out there. It’s just that we are often afraid of the wrong things. So I did some checking around about the most common camping injuries, and here is what I found (in no particular order):
THREAT NO. 1: THE Y CHROMOSOME
This tiny tangle of DNA that separates the men from the women is the most dangerous thing in the backcountry. It makes the male gender do really dumb things, such as climb mountains in thunderstorms, drive trucks into places they shouldn’t, and say things like, “Get a picture of me doing this!” Statistically, men are three times more likely than women to be injured in the outdoors, and eight times more likely to be killed. Just to round things out, guys are also five times more likely to be killed biking, seven times more likely to be killed kayaking and 17 times more likely to be killed by an avalanche.
THREAT NO. 2: CLUMSINESS
The leading killer of people in the outdoors is falling down, usually at a high rate of speed (say, from a mountain bike) or from a high place (say, a mountain), perhaps because of unrealistic assessment of abilities (see Threat No. 1). These fatal falls account for about 30 percent of all outdoor recreational deaths nationwide. In lessor cases, sprains or broken bones can leave one stranded and vulnerable to bad weather or other threats, if not properly prepared.
THREAT NO. 3: ILLNESS
Everything from poor food-preparation and handling, to being unprepared for colder weather can cause health issues in the outdoors. And while rarely fatal, nothing will ruin your outdoor adventure quicker than food poisoning, stomach flu, or just a good chest cold. Dehydration can also fall into this category, especially on hot summer days or when camping at high altitudes.
THREAT NO. 4: PLANT INDUCED
Don’t let anyone tell you poison ivy isn’t an injury. If a few leaves manage to find their way into your campfire, the smoke it produces can be detrimental to your lungs. More frequently, campers come in contact with the plant. While there are a lot of poisonous plants, most of them are only dangerous if ingested: Except for poison ivy and oak. Being able to identify the leaves and taking the time to do so when outdoors will help you to avoid the inconvenient rash.
THREAT NO. 5: MOSQUITOES
West Nile surfaced in the US around 2003. Since then, the disease, spread by mosquito bites, has killed over 200 people nationwide. Only one in five people bitten by an infected skeeter will develop symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And only one in 150 cases will be severe. But a severe case can mean stupor, convulsions, coma and death.
THREAT NO. 6: MOUSE POOP
The seemingly harmless droppings of deer mice can carry hantavirus, a respiratory disease that is fatal in a third of all cases. Since 1993, it has killed almost 850 people nationwide, according to the CDC. It mostly affects people in enclosed, droppings-rich buildings, but the CDC says anyone who comes into contact with mouse dropping in any setting can contract it.
THREAT NO. 7: GUYS WEARING ORANGE
In Colorado alone, hunters accidentally kill 1.3 people a year and inadvertently wound an additional 12 according to the Division of Wildlife. Almost all incidents are hunter-on-hunter, and their kill rate is higher than that of mountain lions and black bears combined. Yikes. So be sure to know the hunting seasons and don’t dress like an elk.
THREAT NO. 8: MOUNTAIN LIONS, BEARS, AX MURDERERS, TARANTULAS, FALLING INTO ABANDONED MINE SHAFTS, HILLBILLIES WITH BANJOS, ETC.
Statistically, people are more likely to die falling into abandoned mines than to be killed by a bear or mountain lion, or any creepy people. Most bear attacks involve bears looking for food and accidentally taking a bite out of a sleeping camper. Keep food and cooking gear in a separate bag hung in a tree away from your camp. For lions, avoid hiking alone at dawn and dusk.
Bottom line here is that the biggest risks to venturing outdoors are not the things that go bump in the night, but rather being unprepared, taking unnecesarry risks, and a general lack of knowledge about plants and animals in the area you plan to camp. Proper preparation and planning can prevent problems before they start, and keep a bad situation from becoming worse.
I hope to see you, safe and healthy, ’round the campfire soon!