Nature Discovery with Renée!

Time for an adventure this week with Librarian Renée! Today’s Nature Discovery blog will feature tips on how to stay safe on your next outdoor adventure! 

Summer is officially upon us and the great outdoors is calling. Summer is always a busy time for the trail systems, but especially with many summer travel plans being rescheduled, the trails are seeing record numbers of visitors. With so many of us responding to the call of the wild,  there is no better time than to discuss outdoor safety.

Take my Outdoor Safety Quiz: The following images are things you might come across when heading out on a hike.  Can you put them in order of most dangerous to least?

Images: Clockwise from top left a) dogs b) lightning c) cars d) mountain lion e) insects (see below for the answer)
Clockwise from top left a) dogs b) lightning c) cars d) mountain lion e) insects (see below for the answer)

Here are my top five safety tips when the hiking trails:

1. Know before you go!
Outdoor safety begins before you leave your house. With over 155 miles of trails in Boulder County alone, it pays to do a little preparing before you lace up those hiking boots. Picking your trail and becoming acquainted with the trail before you leave your house will make every hike a little more enjoyable.

Here are some handy websites for picking your next hike:

Here’s a great guide book you can put on hold: Hiking Colorado: a guide to the state’s greatest hiking adventures.

Once you have picked the hike that is perfect for you and your family, make sure you have a map of your trail and not just one that is dependent on cell service as it is often spotty on trails. This could be a map from your guide book or one downloaded to your device. Some trailheads have maps available, but not all.

2. Everything but the kitchen sink!
If you know your adventure will be lasting more than an hour, my next safety tip is a well thought out backpack of supplies. It is better to over prepare. Be thoughtful as you pack your backpack. How long will you be out (it’s good to overestimate!)? What is the weather like (remember, this is Colorado, weather changes quickly!)? Will you get hungry (remember, you will be burning a lot of  calories!)? Here is my list of top ten items I always bring for a hike that will take over an hour:

  1. WATER WATER WATER (Always bring extra)
  2. SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS (nuts, granola bars, apples, anything easy to pack)
  3. A hat (helpful in keeping the sun out of the eyes and ticks out of the hair)
  4. Sunscreen and lip balm (at our altitude sun exposure is greater)
  5. Extra layers (temperatures decrease and wind increases the higher up you go)
  6. Bug repellent (ticks and mosquitos are plentiful)
  7. A first aid kit (it doesn’t have to be fancy, a few bandaids, tissues, topical antihistamine)
  8. Binoculars (the best way to see wildlife is from a safe distance)
  9. A whistle (if lost, blowing a whistle is more effective then yelling)
  10.  Nature guides (stop and appreciate why you ventured out in the first place) 

3. These boots are made for walking!
Flip flops are great for slipping on to go to the store or walk to the mailbox, but not on a hike. A brand new pair of shoes that you are hoping to keep clean, also not a good choice for a hike. Hiking shoes don’t have to be fancy or expensive, but they should be sturdy, well broken in, closed toed, and nothing you are afraid to get dirty. A sturdy sole is good for all the rock, boulders, and roots you will likely encounter. Well broken-in shoes that are not going to cause blistering is important because hiking with blisters is a true pain. Closed-toed shoes help with the inevitable stubbing of toes as well as protection from any unexpected trail visitors (hint: ovoviviparous ), and no matter how muddy the trail is, plan to stay on the trail! Which brings me to the next safety tip:

4. Follow the yellow brick road (AKA stay on trail!)
Make sure the trail you have chosen is on your map and stay on that trail. Many people venture off trails and make other side trails called social trails. Not only does this hurt the environment, but these trails are not on maps and can make getting lost even easier. Trails are made for our enjoyment and our safety. They are maintained and are kept clear of hazards that live just off the trail. Can you name these off-trail hazards? Answers below.

Images of off-trail hazards

5. Look to the sky!
Our high altitude provides us stunning views, clear skies, increased heart rates, and fantastic, yet deadly, light shows! Lightning is a real issue in Colorado. On average, 17 people will be struck by lightning each year in Colorado. Thunderstorms are common in the foothills and mountains, especially in the afternoons in early summer. Planning the time of your hike and checking the weather is very important, however thunderstorms are unpredictable and can come on suddenly. If a thunderstorm catches you off guard, follow these tips:

  1. If in a forested area, find an open clearing. Do not shelter under a tree!
  2. Make yourself as small as you can with as little of your body touching the ground as possible.  Get up on your tippy toes!
  3. Cover your head!

Those are my safety tips! A little planning, preparation, sticking to the trails, and being mindful of your surroundings, and you are sure to have a safe, enjoyable hike!

Here are the answers to my quizzes:

In order from most dangerous to least: 

  1. C) Cars! There where 596 car fatalities in Colorado in 2019
  2. E) Insects! In 2019 in Colorado, there were 8 deaths caused by the West Nile virus
  3. B) Lightning! On average lightning kills 3 people each year in Colorado
  4. A) Dogs! In the last 34 years, there has been 9 dog bite related fatalities in Colorado
  5. D) Mountain Lions! There have been fewer than 3 deaths in Colorado from Mountain lions in 100 years!!  

Off trail hazards clockwise from top left: 1. Prickly Pear Cactus, 2. Poison Ivy, 3. Prairie Rattlesnake, 4. Ground Nesting Bee

Until next time, Happy Adventures! -Renée

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