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Photo by Bureau of Land Management / Flickr via Creative Commons

How to Survive Wilderness Woes

Expert advice to keep a dangerous stumble, angry critter, or outdoor affliction from ruining your adventure.

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It’s happened to most of us: You’re enjoying Colorado’s backcountry when freak weather, an encounter with a critter, or a clumsy misstep turns your adventure into a nightmare. Sure, you might think you know a few surefire remedies for those pesky—or serious—outdoor afflictions, but are they really the most effective ways to minimize pain, complications, or lasting health problems?

We asked Darren Stokes, owner of Buena Vista–based wilderness-medicine training group Colorado Outside, for his dos and don’ts when it comes to some common mishaps courtesy of Mother Nature.

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Cold Freeze

The Scenario: You lost a glove while snowshoeing in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and by the time you get back to your car, your hand is numb, pale, and a tad waxy.
Do: Remove any wet clothes. This superficial frostbite should be rewarmed right there on-site instead of waiting till you get to the nearest toasty building. Warm, moist heat, like that provided from body-to-body contact, can help.
Don’t: Rub the skin or put the hand next to a dry heat source like the car’s heat blower or open flames. These can burn or damage your skin, and because of the numbness, you won’t feel those injuries until it’s too late.

Snake Mistake

The Scenario: You’ve stopped midtrail for a breather while hiking at Devil’s Backbone Open Space when you hear a distinct buzzy hiss and feel a sudden, sharp pain near your ankle. One look down and you notice two small, bleeding holes above your sock. Yep: rattlesnake.
Do: Note the time and track the venom’s path by taking photos or marking the extent of swelling as you make your way back to a car. Call for help if you have service—911 is best—and tell them you’ve been bitten so antivenom can be prepared. If a call fails, try texting 911 and a friend because texts don’t require as much service “juice” as a voice call.
Don’t: Cut the ankle flesh and try to suck out the poison. It’s completely ineffective and you could wind up with a severe gash, lost a lot of blood, or contract a nasty infection.

The Air Up There

The Scenario: You’re thiiiiis close to summiting Mt. Elbert only to be crippled by a pounding headache and vomiting.
Do: Head down immediately—the quickest cure for acute mountain sickness—and sip water along the way.
Don’t: Push it and hike any farther up the trail—even if the summit is within sight. Don’t go down alone if you’re with a group; if you’re solo, look for a fellow hiker to walk down with you.

Tick Schtick

The Scenario: After a day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin, your spouse finds a tick lodged in the back of your neck.
Do: Use tweezers to grasp the head firmly, pull straight out, and scrape off the remaining parts with a blade. Watch for fever, body aches, exhaustion, and abdominal pain, which could be indicative of Colorado tick fever.
Don’t: Burn off the tick with a hot match head, cover the tick in Vaseline to suffocate it, or squeeze the body while it’s still attached to your skin. Singeing the skin of an already-irritated area is no fun, and the other methods may cause the tick to regurgitate bacteria into your body.

Hot Stuff

The Scenario: On a trail run in the foothills, you start breathing so hard you can’t control it, like your heart is going to burst out of your chest Alien-style. Heat stroke sets in and vomiting ensues.
Do: Seek shade, douse yourself in water if you’ve got enough to spare, and try to hydrate by sipping the rest of your water instead of chugging it.
Don’t: Continue to exercise. This may mean calling for help or waiting for a passerby to assist you rather than continuing to walk the trail.

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Getting Skunked

The Scenario: When your dog bolts for the bushes in the backyard after you let him out one night, you head after him—straight into a cornered skunk that lets you know you’re not welcome in his territory.
Do: Run away. Once inside, use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap (a quick Google search will get you proportions and application instructions) to get rid of the smell.
Don’t: Threaten or hurt the skunk. Spraying is a natural defense, and you don’t want to provoke aggressive behavior like biting. And the old bathe-in-tomato-juice remedy? It only masks the smell.

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