LET’S GO FOR A HIKE
By Steven E Stillwell
Hiking sounds like harmless fun, but it can also be a dangerous pastime if you’re not prepared. Before embarking on your next adventure remember that all four seasons pose different challenges and threats. Over the years, I’ve read a few stories about hikers who decided to take a short walk down an established trail, only to become lost, injured or stranded. During certain times of the year, it’s easy to wander off course, especially when the area sees little traffic, and the surrounding vegetation grows over the path making it hard to visually follow.
Some of you reading this article might remember that last year we had such an incident happen right here in Polk County. An out of town visitor decided to strike out on his own, he wandered off course, and never made it back. Eventually, a search and rescue team was dispatched to find the disoriented guy, and fortunately they were successful in their endeavor! If memory serves me correctly, he spent approximately eight days in the Ouachita National Forest, and when they recovered him, he was disoriented, malnourished, and suffering from dehydration. He also had underlying mental health issues that could have impaired his judgment.
If you spend enough time in the woods, and the skies turn gray and indistinguishable, it’s easy to lose your bearings, especially if you’re not familiar with the territory‒ it’s happened to me before! WHEN YOU DECIDE TO STRIKE OUT, always carry a daypack with your survival gear! Matches, water-bottle, filtration device, or purification tablets, space-blanket, small tarp, Para-cord, compass, knife, folding-saw, flashlight, whistle, signal mirror, and a couple of trail-snacks are the lightweight items that you’ll always find in my rucksack! With these things, I can stay warm, hydrated, and build a shelter if there’s ever an emergency, and the best thing is; everything combined weighs less than 10 pounds.
Chap-stick, tweezers and nail-clippers are some of the optional creature comforts that I like to stuff in my pack’s extra compartment, because they don’t take up a lot of space, and trust me, you’ll need them one day. I use a Ziploc bag to stow them in, so everything stays together. Chapped lips, hangnails, and splinters won’t kill you, but they’re aggravating and these things can make your adventures miserable.
PREPARE FOR THE WORST, AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. It’s a good idea to check the weather station before heading out, but take into consideration that these predictions can be wrong, so always be prepared for the worst case scenarios. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Before departing on your journey, it’s wise to let a trusted friend, or family member know where you’re going, when you’ll be back, and what your plans are.
LOOK BEFORE YOU STEP. When the temperature rises, traversing trails and rocky terrain with a walking stick will help you maintain your balance, and it’s also a good defensive measure against snakes and smaller predators. Waist high weeds and grass can pose a threat, because you never know what’s lurking underneath. It’s a good idea to avoid these areas during the warmer months, but if your travel route dictates going in that direction, proceed with caution. Use your staff to probe your surroundings before taking your next step. I’ve been doing this for years, and occasionally I’ll stir-up a snake and push him out of the way. The wiser serpents will slither away quickly, and most of them are usually non-venomous. Please be mindful that these encounters are few and far between, so don’t let fear hold you back. When you know what you’re doing, you can press forward with confidence. Knowledge is the vital key to survival, so strive to become proficient.
I’d like to invite you to join our Facebook page, OUACHITA BUSHCRAFT AND SURVIVAL. Your questions and suggestions are always welcome.