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Dodging Dangers

Tips on How to Avoid Outdoor Hazards and Enjoy a Safe Outing


JoBeth Brown, public information officer for Inyo National Forest, has a long list of things people do to get in trouble in the great outdoors:

"A kid or dog will jump into a stream and can't get out because of the current. The adult jumps in to save him and soon everyone's in trouble. . .

"At a popular campground, a coyote--which had been fed by humans--walks into a tent one night and nibbles on a small girl's head. . .

"A man holds a fishing pole and sits in a metal boat in the middle of Crowley Lake, happily fishing away--in the middle of a thunderstorm.

"Just about everything that happens up here can be avoided," says Brown. "You just have to be prepared."


Joe Ventura and Ronnie Reseda go hiking in the High Sierra. Both are very fit--they are unemployed actors who spend all day attached to exercise machines. But when they reach 11,972-foot Bishop Pass, they suddenly feel nauseous and have pounding headaches.

Starbuck's withdrawal? No. Altitude sickness, which can turn even the fit into useless piles of flesh. When traveling to high elevations, get acclimated to the thin air before engaging in strenuous activity. Drink as much water as possible for a week before your trip. Be a bladder with legs.


"Here's one we get all the time," says Randi Jorgensen, a spokesperson for the Angeles National Forest. "Someone walks way downhill to a very nice spot. Later, it's 95 degrees. They get halfway up and think they are having a heart attack. And we have to go down and rescue them."

The moral to this story? What goes down must come up. Never underestimate the heat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face. Bring plenty of drinking water.

"Did you know it can snow up here every month of the year?," Brown says of the Inyo National Forest. "Plan for it to be in the 30s at night. Bring shorts for during the day and down jackets for the kids. I know. It's a pain."

As for lightning: Stay away from water and isolated trees. Squat on the ground. Remove metal-frame backpacks. Wish you would have called for the weather forecast earlier.


Here's a reason to not drink water from a creek or lake: A parasite named giardia, which lands its victims in the bathroom for two weeks--at least. Always treat water first. Either buy a filter at an outdoors store or boil the water vigorously for three minutes.

Ticks are small insects which can bore into your skin as if it's grandma's Jell-O mold. Some ticks carry Lyme disease, which makes giardia seem downright pleasant. That's why you should always perform a tick check after hiking. You may even want to invest in a tick extraction kit, which comes with spring-loaded tweezers, perfect for pulling Mr. Tick from Mr. Leg.

Leaves of three, let it be. That's an old saying about poison oak, often found near creeks and other riparian areas. Don't touch it and don't let your dog touch it--and if your dog touches it, don't touch your dog, because then you'll get it. Got it?


Avoid rattlesnakes by staying on the trail. Never back a rattlesnake into a corner and make it defend itself. It will.

Do not panic in the rare event you are bitten. You have time. The most important thing is to sit down and relax while someone else gets help. Do not get the heart pumping, which will only help the snake's venom work into your system quicker.

Black bears are found in most of Southern California's mountains. They are herbivores. They have no interest in eating you.

They do, however, want to eat your food. And they have a sense of smell that is 1,000 times stronger than that of a dog. Never put food in your tent and never put food in your car where bears can see it--bears know what coolers are and what they do.

Once bears get a taste of human food, they become a "nuisance bear." Nuisance bears usually have to be shot. Afterward, the ghost of the dead, fed bear may haunt your soul for the rest of eternity (well, no one has ever proven otherwise).

Mountain lions are carnivores. But they really don't want to eat you, either. The evidence suggests that they would be happier avoiding humans entirely.

The best way to avoid mountain lions is to avoid hiking or running alone. If you do encounter a mountain lion, maintain eye contact. Make yourself bigger. Put your child on your shoulders. Yell. Throw sticks and stones. In the extremely rare event that the lion attacks, fight back.


Since 1967, 186 people have drowned in the Kern River. Why?

Some were drunk. Others were unsupervised children. Most swam into the river and got stuck in the current. Or got their feet stuck between rocks.

Never dive into a creek or river. Don't jump from great heights--the bottom is always closer than you think. Riptides travel parallel to the beach, preventing swimmers from reaching shore. Two solutions: Don't go in the water unless a lifeguard is present; If caught in a riptide, swim parallel to shore until you're out of the riptide. Get to shore quickly and kiss the beach.


Brown, of the Inyo National Forest, began reading from her list of things not to do a very long time ago. She is still reading from that list.

"People go on long hikes and can't walk because their feet get so badly blistered because they wore the wrong shoes. . .

"People climb up these rocks and then discover they can't get down and end up spending the night up there. . .

"People lose their kids in the forest. That's why we have a hug a tree program. We want the kids to stay in one spot. That's also why we tell parents to give their kids whistles to wear around their necks. . .

"People don't make sure their whistles work."

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