I’ve been thinking about hiking accidents lately, maybe because some of the over-dramatized reality TV shows I’ve watched tend to focus on the macabre to grab viewers’ interest. I’ve tended to steer clear of this topic as it may discourage some would-be hikers from venturing onto trails that might otherwise offer many enjoyable experiences.
I’m going to report some statistics that shouldn’t deter you from hiking, but rather encourage you to hike in a safer and more mature way. First, I will reluctantly recall some personal experiences I have had.
Twice, not three times, I fell, resulting in minor but painful injuries. The first fall occurred because I tripped over a clump of grass. The ground did not hurt. Which has been my hiking stick. As I fell to the side, the grip of my pole “damped” my weight, which broke my rib.
The second incident, also resulting in a broken rib, occurred on a section of the Green Monster Trail System. Crossing Asaph Run, a slimy, slippery rock cut its way under my hiking boot and I descended, landing head-on on an unaccommodating rock.
I was more embarrassed than hurt as I needed help getting out of the pool. I didn’t realize the extent of my injury until later.
Here are some revealing statistics:
Fifty-seven percent of fall victims are women. The vast majority of fall victims while hiking are over the age of 41. More than 42% of injuries are related to the ankle joint.
There is only a 0.0064% chance of dying while hiking. However, Yosemite experiences between 13 and 20 hiking fatalities a year, with several attributed to the hiker attempting a “selfie” while perched on precarious footings.
The most common hiking injuries are: blisters, sprains, cuts, sunburn, insect bites, hypothermia, hyperthermia and dehydration. These don’t appear to be life threatening, but the last three can put you in a life or death situation.
Prevention and proper treatment of injuries are of vital importance. Let’s start with the most common: light bulbs. Keep your feet and socks dry. Hiking shoes should be broken in before using on the trail. If a blister develops, puncture it with a sterilized needle and cover it with a bandage or other sterile material. There are many schools of thought on how to treat a blister. Most importantly, keep it clean to avoid infection.
Sprains, especially of the ankle, are quite common. Prevent them with proper footwear – good hiking boots with solid ankle support. Treat a sprained ankle using the RICE procedure: rest, ice (an undershirt soaked in cold water is an acceptable substitute), compression (wrapping the joint), and elevation (elevating the ankle above the heart level).
Cuts: Keep them clean to avoid infection. Use sterile materials from your first aid kit.
Hypothermia is the cooling of your body’s core temperature. It can be life threatening, so every effort should be made to prevent it. Wear appropriate clothing, carry emergency equipment and, above all, stay dry. Treatment: Give the patient a hot drink to warm him up. If it gets to a stage where the person loses consciousness, every effort should be made to rewarm them, as they now only have a 50-50 chance of survival.
Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia and can be just as debilitating. It is also known simply as overheating, a condition in which an individual’s body temperature is elevated beyond normal. The person’s body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates.
When an extreme rise in temperature occurs, it becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death. Nearly half a million deaths are recorded each year from hyperthermia. Treatment involves moving the victim to a cool place, drinking water or sports drinks filled with electrolytes, placing something cold, such as a wet undershirt, under the arms and around the elder.
Dehydration is another problem, simply avoided by drinking plenty of water. Severe dehydration, however, can rob the body of its ability to cool itself. Left untreated, this can lead to dangerously high body temperatures and life-threatening conditions, including organ failure and death.
Preventing sunburn and insect bites is a no-brainer. Carry these items in your first aid kit to help yourself as well as to treat other medical issues: bandages, elastic strap, ibuprofen, blister bandages, duct tape, safety pins, antiseptic, sunscreen, insect repellent, blanket space, salt or electrolyte pills and tweezers.
With proper preparation, you will have peace of mind during your hike.