One of the things I like most about living in the Truckee Meadows is that well into late September and early October, you can keep exploring the area through hiking. During the fall months, my wife, our two children and I, prefer to have a leisurely start to the day. We like to pack some snacks and head out for a hike. Since the weather is usually a bit cooler, we know that it won’t be blazing hot by the time we are on our way back. Regardless of the season, there are a few things to keep in mind to make your day hike safe and memorable (in a good way!).
There are many resources and several websites that have great checklists and ideas about how to safely and responsibly spend time outdoors. The first step is to always let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you expect to be back. You should also consider leaving a note in your car with this information. Also, consider hiking with at least one companion. If you are heading into a remote area, your group should have at least four people. Plus, think about the skills you might need on your hike, like the ability to build a temporary shelter or administer first aid.
Here are key items you should bring on your adventure:
- First aid kit – you can find good recommendations on what should be included in your first aid kit (including prescription medications) in Todd’s post about camping and outdoor safety
- Whistle – If you encounter a dangerous situation or need help, blow the whistle three times and listen to see if someone responds. Repeat until help arrives.
- Water, snacks, sunblock, insect repellant – Bring as much as you need for your trip plus a little extra in case of emergencies.
- Compass – Always be prepared with key tools to guide you through your hike but if you get lost or disoriented on your hike, shelter in place. Do not keep wandering around hoping to find the trail.
- Hat – Whether it is summer or fall, protecting yourself from the sun is always a top priority.
While there may be a lot of circumstances you can prepare for, there are others which you might not expect. In northern Nevada, there are a couple of critters you might encounter that can put a damper on your hike, if you don’t know how to deal with them.
If you hear a rattlesnake, the first thing you should do is stop and find where it is. If you find its location, proceed to step away from it without losing sight of the snake. If you can’t see it, quickly and carefully move out of the area. Unfortunately, snake bite kits are not effective. Save space and bring along other helpful key items like those mentioned above. About half the time, a snake bite will be a dry bite where no venom is injected. Snakes know they can’t eat you and since they can control the amount of venom released, they release just enough to get you to go away. Generally bites are not lethal; however, you should still seek prompt medical attention.
For spider bites, do you best to identify the spider – take a picture of it if you can and keep track of any symptoms you experience. Promptly after, clean the bite and apply an antibiotic ointment. You can also apply a cool, damp cloth to minimize swelling and pain. Continue to watch for signs of infection (skin that is red, hot or tender are things you should mention to your doctor).
To learn more about the risks associated with a tick bite, look at these maps to understand which ticks may be prevalent in our area and what diseases they might transmit. Consider treating your clothing and gear with permethrin and use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Steer clear of ticks by walking in the middle of the trail. A tick can attach to your skin easily. There are many ineffective (and possibly dangerous) old wives’ tales about how to remove a tick. Most importantly, do not twist it, burn it off or paint it with nail polish. Grasp it using fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady even pressure. Dispose of a tick in a well-sealed plastic bag or container. Keep the tick in the bag or container in case you develop signs and symptoms of illness and the insect needs to be tested. Signs and symptoms of illness can include body aches, fever, flu-like symptoms or a rash. To learn more about how to minimize the risk of tick bites, visit the CDC website.
If you know you are allergic to bees, wasps and yellowjackets – carry an EpiPen® and make sure it is easily accessible and/or that your hiking buddies know where it is and how to administer it. If you don’t think you’re allergic to stinging insects, but experience any respiratory problems (like shortness of breath or swelling of the face or throat), call 9-1-1 immediately. Otherwise, to treat a sting, elevate the area and put ice or a cold cloth to minimize pain and swelling.
Although the warm-weather days are coming to an end, the local hiking trails will welcome you in the fall with cooler weather and vibrant autumn colors. Have fun and be safe!
This article was contributed by Jason Hatfield, REMSA’s Paramedic and Clinical Coordinator