It’s time once again when people all across the country head to the mountains for some rest and relaxation. A trip to the wilds allows adults to wind down while the children enjoy sights and sounds of a world that they’re not accustomed to.
In our excitement to get away we often forget that they don’t call it the wilds for nothing. In the mountains we are visitors exploring a world of critters, both large and small, that live there full time. Generally speaking, these residents tolerate our stay as long as we don’t disrupt their routines which for the most part revolve around finding food and raising their young.
When it comes to bears, moose, and mountain lions the best advice is stay away from areas where they’re active. Seasonal patterns and safety advice is readily available from a park ranger.
Now lets discuss how to avoid some smaller forest inhabitants that you don’t want to forget:
- Wear long sleeve shirts and pants.
- Stay clear of shady, moist wooded areas. Make camp in a sunny, warm area.
- Avoid leaf & debris piles; sit in chairs off the ground.
- Try not to walk in areas with high grass or vegetation.
- Walk in the center of trails and clearings.
- Keep foods in sealed containers and dispose of rubbish quickly. Wasps are highly efficient at detecting food from far away, especially sugary foods, only bring food out when you are ready to start preparing or eating it.
- Make a wasp trap. Cut a plastic bottle in half and put a sugary liquid (such as a fizzy drink or a dollop of jam and water) in the bottom half. Next, place the top half of the bottle upside down inside the bottom half and tape it in place so you have a funnel for the wasps to fall down. (Put the trap away from your camp or you’ll just end up attracting them to you!) Wasps will be attracted to the sweet substance but won’t be able to escape the bottle once they climb inside and will eventually drown in the liquid.
Mosquitoes are attracted by body heat, the carbon dioxide we breathe out and chemicals like lactic acid in our sweat. They’re also most active at dusk and dawn, so you need to be more vigilant at these times to avoid getting bitten.
- Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water so avoid setting up camp near these types of areas.
- Wear long sleeved tops and trousers, especially at dusk and dawn.
- Use insect repellents and mosquito nets if your tent doesn’t have one built in. DEET is a powerful repellent.
- Burning mosquito and citronella coils or candles can help keep them away in the evenings
Know how to identify a rattlesnake – If a snake bites you or someone in your group it is important to know if it was a poisonous rattlesnake or not.
- Familiarize yourself with the risks in your area before hitting the trail.
- Avoid their desirable habitats like rocks where they can hide in the cracks. However, they also like to sun themselves and sometime a dirt trail free of tall grasses is a desirable place for them to be.
- Keep your dog on a leash – Loose dogs can unknowingly startle a rattlesnake or try to attack them. Keep your dog safe by staying on the trail.
- Teach your children to stay close to adults and to immediately report any snake sightings.
- Wear protective hiking boots or shoes. Leave the sandals at wear long pants or gaiters for additional protection from snakebites.
If you see a snake back away slowly. They can’t hear so noises won’t scare them but they can sense movement. Many people’s first reaction is to kill the rattlesnake, but rattlesnakes play an important role in keeping the population of its prey in check. Do not mess with the natural ecosystem.
You should also be aware of plants that can spoil a great outing to the mountains as well. Here in the west the list includes stinging nettle, poison ivy, and poison oak. If you make contact on bare skin with a poisonous plant are some ways to relieve the discomfort:
As soon as you notice signs of contact with a poisonous plant, clean the area with rubbing alcohol or, better yet, a specialized poison-plant skin wash. Alternatively, you can use most de-greasing soaps or detergents to clean the infected area. Rinse frequently with plenty of water so the solution you use does not dry out on the area, which can spread the plant’s toxic compound to other parts of the body (such as the hand you are using to treat the infected area).
After cleaning the area, apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering. An antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can help relieve the itch.
Of course, coming into contact with a poisonous plant is quite common when you participate in outdoor activities, including hiking or gardening. However, for those times you’re caught away from the medicine cabinet, a few home remedies can ease itchy discomfort from these poisonous plants.
Clean the infected area with water, pat dry, and apply a thin layer of rubbing alcohol. Then, sprinkle a bit of a medicated body powder over the area to create a white paste. Leave it on the skin and wrap cotton gauze around the infected area to isolate the rash.
Banana peels contain a number of healing anti-fungal, antibiotic, and enzymatic properties that can be useful for rash relief. If you don’t have access to alcohol or body power, place a banana peel on the infected area as a temporary solution. The medicinal properties of the peel may not cure the rash, but it can offer some itch relief.
Some foods, including potatoes and oatmeal, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat a number of inflammatory conditions, including sunburn. After coming in contact with poisonous plants, both foods can help treat an irritating reaction.
Potato: First, wash the potato and peel it. Make a thick paste by grinding the potato in a blender. You may need to add a little bit of water, but avoid making the paste too runny. Then, add the paste to the rash and cover it with a clean cloth or large bandage. Leave the paste on for 30 minutes to one hour and wash off. Repeat if necessary.
Oatmeal: To make an oatmeal paste, mix one cup of oatmeal with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Add more water as necessary to make the paste thick enough to slather on the skin. Apply the paste to the rash twice a day, leaving it on for about 30 minutes.
If the rash is fairly large, consider a warm bath in colloidal oatmeal. Because colloidal oatmeal is a finely ground powder, it does not sink to the bottom of the bathtub, providing more relief for a larger rash.
If you’re out of the aforementioned products, high-proof alcoholic beverages can act as a substitute for rubbing alcohol. You can sterilize a rash by applying the alcohol directly to the affected area. If you realize you have come in contact with a poisonous plant and apply the vodka quickly, you may be able to wash away the irritant from the skin and avoid the subsequent itchiness.
Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which acts an anti-inflammatory and may help soothe the irritation caused by poisonous plants. To make a coffee paste, mix cold black coffee with a few teaspoons of baking soda. Blend until the mixture forms a thick paste. Cover the entire affected area with the paste, and then allow it dry on the skin. Repeat two or three times a day.
There are risks and rewards associated with nearly everything we do in life. A trip to the great outdoors is no exception. It is a truly unique experience and one that can be safety enjoyed for years to come. Just make sure you are aware and prepared for whatever may come your way.