Mountain Encounters: Tips to Help You Fend for Yourself Out There

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When heading out for a trip to the mountains, there are a number of things you have to consider and get ready for. Many times, people cover almost all the bases.

Most people end up heading out for mountain hikes during the warmer seasons, and it is much rarer that someone rounds up their gear for a hardcore hike through the snow and extreme cold. If this is you, great—you have much less to worry about than the summer hikers. If you are one of the summer people who is looking forward to braving the trails and hiking up the sides of those mountains, this article is for you, and the tips included could help save your life someday.

The Elements

While this is not technically an encounter, in essence, fighting against the elements is pretty much your primary concern when heading to the mountains. There is no greater danger, even in summertime. There are literally thousands of destinations (more like tens of thousands!) where you can head to hike in the mountains, and each one has a different set of wonders and dangers. The good part about today’s world is that those dangers are much more manageable through modern technology.

While this may seem to be common sense, make sure you check the weather forecast for the time around your trip, especially taking a look at regional weather maps. Also check out the temperatures at the elevations you plan to head to, as the difference of a couple of hundred feet up or down can mean a big change in the temperature. Plan your clothing accordingly, and make sure that if you are taking a longer trip, you have some high-tech, lightweight clothing that will accommodate you well for both daytime and nighttime. Up in the mountains, the temperature can plummet rapidly, and if unprepared, you could be in serious trouble.

The Fauna

Meeting animals in the mountains can be a beautiful thing. You get a chance to see them in their natural habitat and feel a part of something greater than yourself. On the other hand, sometimes those encounters don’t go that well. Oftentimes, most animals will be much more scared of you than you are of them, and you will part paths with no one hurt. Other times, unfortunately, an animal will be scared enough to attack, or perhaps has caught rabies, or the encounter is just unavoidable. Not all the animals in this article will be in regions that you will be hiking in, but surely some will be. Check your local wildlife guide to see what is in the region.

Bear with Us

Bears. The very word fills some people with feelings of cuddly, warm fuzzy creatures, and other people with a sense of dread. Bear encounters have a lot of press, but actually are very rare. Of course, it is pretty much never a good idea to travel in the mountains alone, and in bear country, the larger the group the better. Make noise, talk to the people with you. Bears aren’t too keen on getting close to a group of people talking, laughing or singing. If a bear does get close to you, make sure you have some bear spray close at hand (it doesn’t do you any good at the bottom of your backpack!), and whether you have it or not, try to figure out which type of bear it is. If you are in North America, it’ll be either a grizzly or a black bear. Regardless of the bear, you should back away slowly, in the direction you came from. Never run, but walk. Almost always the bear will take off. The old adage of playing dead or acting aggressively is not true. Rely on the bear spray, and you can use it from even 30 feet away. While this seems WAY too close to be to a bear, they will almost always head in the other direction. Don’t worry, there is no lasting damage to the bear at all, and you will both be safer for having avoided contact. Check out the wonderfully informative website Bearsmart, to learn all about bears and bear encounters at www.bearsmart.com.

Slithering Snakes

This one is kind of a ubiquitous thing. There are snakes in most habitats on earth, and the mountains are certainly no exception. A snakebite can be a fast road to serious long term injury, and even death, so it’s good to know what to do and how to prepare.

This is one encounter that is never very productive for the human involved. First, it’s always a must to check what types of snakes are in your region, how common they are, what are their habitats, and which ones are poisonous. For example, California has six types of poisonous snakes, few of which, other than red diamonds and western diamondbacks, live above 6,500 feet.

The best thing you can do to avoid a particularly dangerous snake encounter is to prepare beforehand. Make sure you are hiking with long pants, which you should be doing for a number of reasons, anyhow. Also, make sure the pants are a good, tough hiking pair of pants, not just the average pair of blue jeans you pick up off the rack. It makes a difference, and the weave strength in those pants can mean the difference between a bite and a near miss! Hike with true, tough hiking boots as well, something that goes pretty high above your ankles. In addition to providing ankle support, the vast majority of snakebites will happen from your ankle down, so this will be your best bet. If a snake does happen to threaten you, use your hiking pole (you DO hike in the mountains with one, don’t you?) to keep between you and the snake. The jury is out on snake bite kits, but you won’t be in trouble if you don’t have one. Check out this article by Hiking Dude about potential snake bites and what to do and not to do if bitten. http://www.hikingdude.com/hiking-snakes.php.

Mountain Lions

This is a bit trickier than the other two. Cougars and pumas are amazing animals, but when encountering one, it can take a bit of work to make sure you stay okay. If you are hiking in an area with mountain lions, you see one, and it doesn’t flee right off, you should make yourself appear as large as possible, putting your arms up, opening your jacket, and/or waving around your hiking pole. Bring your kids, if they are there, right to you and have them stand right behind you if they are older, or pick them up if they are smaller. Yell at the cat, never turn your back on it, and back away slowly and at the same speed. Keep being loud and acting aggressive. If all else fails, use sticks and rocks and be really threatening.

Keep Your Head About You

One of the worst things you can do in any situation is to panic. This is repeated time and time again, but in these situations it is the most important thing you can remember. You will get hurt, potentially seriously, if you panic in an encounter situation. So keep calm—especially in your outward demeanor—and remember what you need to do, and you will be just fine. Good luck on your hiking, and be safe!


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.