Understanding Survival (Outdoor Survival Series Chapter 2)

To understand outdoor survival, it is crucial to be aware of what hazards are present. Although the Rocky Mountains are generally a very safe place to recreate, the key is being able to identify potential threats and practice the skills needed to endure those threats. The following are the top risks to look out for and, more importantly, prepare for:

Lightning: Lighting can be common in the Rocky Mountains anytime of the year. If you are at high elevations in the summer, lightning storms can appear out of nowhere. Here are a few basic tips:

  1. Don’t be connected to the tallest object in the area. Reduce your exposure by moving to a lower altitude. If you are at timberline, move to the treeline and stay there until the storm passes.
  2. Keep your feet close together with the least amount of contact to ground and get in a tight ball.
  3. Metal on your body does not increase attraction, but it will burn you if you are struck by lightning.
  4. Fishermen should get off the water and into a car as quickly as possible.

Thunderstorms can develop quickly, especially in alpine areas. I have been caught in numerous thunderstorms while hunting and fishing in Colorado’s high country. I always assume I can never be too safe. If I hear roaring thunder approaching, I always move to a lower elevation as soon as possible.

CPW photo by Nick Clement

CPW photo by Nick Clement

Altitude: Climbing in altitude without proper preparation may lead to becoming hypoxic. Hypoxic is when your brain and body do not function properly due to lack of oxygen. Preventing oxygen deprivation is a lot easier than coping with it after the fact. Here are some general tips to avoid hypoxia:

  1. Hydration – If you are planning a high-country trip, drink twice as much water as you normally would. It is also a good idea to avoid coffee and alcohol.
  2. Prepare your body – Get in shape by working out and staying active. Run, bike, swim, lift weights or do anything to increase your heart rate on a consistent basis. The air is thin in Colorado, so even if you are in top shape at sea level you will feel the effects of the altitude. As a former college athlete, staying in shape is a part of my daily routine but no matter how well conditioned I am, I always feel the effects when hiking at elevation. This holds true despite the fact I live at 5,280 feet.
  3. Acclimate – It’s a good idea to spend a few days at an intermediate altitude. Take the opportunity to see some of the sights around Denver or Colorado Springs before attempting to head into the backcountry.
  4. Don’t take any chances – No matter how tempting it may be to continue your trip even after you start feeling ill or that headache comes on, you should move to a lower elevation immediately until a medical professional tells you otherwise.

Weather: If not dressed properly, or equipped to stay protected from the elements, you can become a victim of hypothermia. Conversely, with an average of 300 days of sunshine each year in Colorado it is easy to overheat and become hyperthermic. 

In this second chapter, this video will cover the most important threats to consider when exploring Colorado’s backcountry. Click HERE to go to the previous chapter in this series.

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