Friday, September 30, 2011

Shattered: Rescue in the Grand Tetons

Ever wonder what it is like to be rescued off of a big mountain like the Grand Teton because you are too injured to get down on your own? Well, it goes a little something like this:

Shattered from getungrounded on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Taking care of your hiking feet

The following are a few tips, suggestions and strategies for taking care of your feet before and during a hike to help ensure that it isn’t ruined as a result of blisters:

Toenails: Make sure you take the time to trim your toenails before a big hike, especially one that involves long descents. It’s best to clip your toenails as short as possible so that there’s no extra nail length. If need be, file the nails down until they’re flush with the skin. Sometimes I forget to do this and end up with a long nail digging into the flesh of a neighboring toe!

Socks: One way of preventing blisters is to wear proper socks. This means staying far away from 100% cotton socks which absorb sweat and can lead to blisters. It’s best to wear socks made from synthetics, or a blend of synthetics and cotton, which wicks moisture away and keeps your feet drier and cooler. Also, make sure you wear socks that fit properly. Socks that are too big can bunch together in boots and create friction areas that result in blisters.

Finally, I always keep an extra pair of socks in my backpack just in case the ones I’m wearing get wet.

Boots: Much has already been written on boots, including what type to wear, proper fit, etc. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re looking for an informative article on the subject I highly recommend this one. Also, my wife has had problems with blisters, and even lost a toenail while hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon several years ago. She’s since discovered that as a result of her narrow feet, she wasn't wearing boots that fit her properly. This article on Backpacker Mag offers solutions for people who have similar issues.

Boot laces: One way to help prevent blisters from forming on your heels, and toes from hitting the front of your boot, is to make sure your boots are properly laced, especially on descents.

When heading downhill it’s important to make sure that your heel doesn’t slip forward, thus causing friction which leads to blisters. The key is to keep your heel secure within the boot, while still allowing some room for natural swelling that occurs in the fore and mid areas of your foot.

Most good hiking boots have two types of eyelets: closed metal rings along the top of the foot, and quick-release types on the top of the boot above the ankle.

On the lower eyelets along the top of the foot, it’s best to lace your shoes with a little give. In other words, not snug, but not real loose either. This will give your foot room to expand as your foot swells during a hike.

Then, on that last lace before you start lacing through the quick release eyelets, do a single, very snug, overhand loop. Lace through the first pair of quick release eyelets and then do another snug overhand loop. Do the same all the way to the top of the eyelets (don’t strangle your ankle though!). This will anchor your heel area to the boot and keep it from sliding.

Another option for lacing boots, especially if you have narrow feet, is to use the technique outlined by the Hiking Lady in this video:

Gaiters: Most people would agree that wet socks suck. Wet socks are not only uncomfortable, but can also be dangerous if it’s cold out. Moreover, hiking for long periods in wet socks is a prescription for blisters.

One way to combat wet terrain, snow, and even sand and pebbles from jumping into your boots, is to wear gaiters. Basically there are two types: high and low. High gaiters are used for snowshoeing and mountaineering, extend to just below your knees, and are designed to keep your socks and pants dry. Short gaiters generally cover the lower part of your shin and are used in warmer weather to protect against wet terrain, sand and pebbles.

Blisters: The following are a few other suggestions for avoiding blisters:

* Train your feet. Don’t go out on a long hike without taking the time to toughen up your feet by doing walks or short hikes leading up to the big day.

* Don’t try to break in brand new boots on a long hike either. Wear a new pair around town, or on short hikes, before taking them long distance.

* Walking barefoot around the house, especially outside, will toughen the skin of your feet.

* Stop and remove dirt, sand, or any other debris that gets in your boots ASAP.

* Air your feet out during a break in order to cool and dry them off.

* For people with feet that sweat excessively, try using extra-strength antiperspirant creams, roll-ons, or powders to reduce sweating.

* If you have areas on your foot that have caused problems in the past, try putting moleskin or athletic tape on before blisters have a chance to form.

* If you do develop a hot spot, cover them immediately with moleskin, athletic tape, Adventure Medical Kits GlacierGel pads, or even duct tape before they become blisters.

Treating Blisters: Well, if all of the above fails, and you still wind up with a blister, here are a few tips for treating them (and another good reason for keeping a small first aid kit in your pack).

* If the blister isn’t torn and is full of liquid, pierce it from the side with a sterile needle at its base and let all the fluid drain out. If the affected skin is still intact, don't remove it. Instead, cover the drained blister with moleskin.

* If the blister is already torn, carefully cut away the loose skin and clean the area with antiseptic. Allow it to dry and harden in the open air for as long possible. Before resuming your hike, put a band-aid or gauze over the torn blister and then put a layer of moleskin over the blister area. It’s best to cut a doughnut shaped piece of moleskin that fits around the blister rather than putting it directly on it.

* If you have a blister that's buried deep in the skin and doesn't hold a lot of liquid, it’s best not to puncture them. Instead, just cover them with a moleskin doughnut to relieve the friction.

If you have any other helpful tips, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

John Muir: Quote of the Day

“Get off the tracks at Belton Station [now West Glacier], and in a few minutes you will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent.”

“Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.”

John Muir
Our National Parks

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Top Ten Items to have on a Day Hike

Below is my list of the top ten things you should keep in your backpack on any day hike. Obviously you will need to make changes to your overall list based on weather conditions, season, terrain and length of trip, but generally speaking, these are the items I consider to be the most important to have on any day hike.

1) Orientation - Take a map and/or guide book with you. National Geographic's Trails Illustrated Maps are excellent. Use the map to keep track of your progress so that you know where you’re at all times. It’s also a good idea to carry a compass, and know how to use it as well.

2) Hydration - Take plenty of water with you, especially in the summer. You can sweat anywhere from 1/2 to 1 quart of fluid for every hour you walk in the heat. This fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 3 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day. If you plan on drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia lamblia. Giardia is a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron. Liquids such as water or sports drinks are best for you. Drinking soda or alcohol while hiking will dehydrate you. Make sure to pack extra liquids with you in case your hike takes longer than expected.

3) Fuel - The best snacks for the trail are ones that will provide you with high energy, such as fruit, granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, G.O.R.P. (trail mix), beef jerky, or even candy. Again, take extra food with you in case your hike takes longer than expected for whatever reason. Throw a couple of energy bars in your pack. They’re light weight, and will pack a nice punch if needed.

4) First Aid - Learn first aid and carry a first aid kit in your pack. Know what to do in case of an emergency. First aid training will teach you how to react and deal with specific types of injuries.

5) Shelter from the storm – No, I’m not talking about toting a tent around with you. I’m referring to keeping rain gear in your pack in case the skies open-up while you’re out on the trail. Weather can be very unpredictable in the mountains. Nothing is worse than getting soaked miles from the trailhead, which can lead to hypothermia. Even during the summer a wet hiker can succumb to hypothermia at higher elevations.

6) Fire – I’m not suggesting you carry something to cook beef stroganoff on your lunch break. But it is extremely important to have some ability to start a fire in case of an emergency bivouac. I always carry a fire source: waterproof matches or some other emergency firestarter. You'll also want to carry some type of tinder, such as fire sticks, or even cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly and stored in aluminum foil, a zip lock bag or even an old film canister.

7) Extra Socks – Extra socks are a must as well. If you accidently slip into some water, or you’re forced to cross a swollen creek, you’ll want to change your socks right away. Besides having cold feet, you’re almost guaranteed to take home a few blisters.

8) Gloves – Although the forecast might call for a mild day, weather can change quickly in the mountains. Overcast skies, high winds, or light rain, can chill your hands in a hurry, especially in the mountains.

9) Emergency Blanket – An emergency blanket is an excellent item to throw in the bottom of your pack. They’re inexpensive, light weight and take about as much room as a pack of baseball cards. Using a reflective material, they’re designed to reflect your body heat back to you in an emergency situation. You can also use the blanket to ceate an emergency lean-to shelter as well.

10) Knife – preferably a multi-use knife such as a Swiss Army Knife can come in handy in a variety of situations.

There are a few other items you should probably consider having in your pack, but didn’t quite make my top 10 list, including, medications, a whistle, flashlight, bear spray, toilet paper, moleskin, sunscreen, ski hat, cell phone, duct tape. For a complete checklist, please click here.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

NPS Introduces Online Water Safety Lessions

Earlier in the summer the NPS announced the launch of two new National Park Service Junior Ranger WebRanger games to learn about rip currents and general water safety. I'm bringing this to your attention because water is the number one cause of fatalities in Glacier National Park. The online WebRanger games are a great way to introduce children to the dangers water can present, and what they can do to help prevent accidents.

The games can be found at

Here's the rest of the press release:

“Millions of people every year enjoy swimming, fishing, paddling, and boating in national parks,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “However, regardless of age, every person needs to be properly prepared around water. This point was reinforced last month at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. A seven-year old girl enjoying the waves on an air mattress was swept out into rough waters and flipped off the mattress. She survived only by staying calm and recalling instructions from a swim class she took last year. She floated on her back and tread water for 17 minutes until a rescue boat could reach her. Although exhausted, she was OK because she knew what to do in an emergency situation.”

The WebRanger activities present scientifically sound information but in a child-friendly manner. The water safety module includes information about appropriate floatation devices and swimming locations. The rip current activity teaches children how to identify and escape from this common shore hazard. Even the most seasoned swimmer cannot go against a rip current. It is important to stay calm and swim parallel to the beach until free of the current. If unable to swim out of it, remember that rip currents only travel about 50 yards before dwindling.

The games were developed by the country’s leading experts on water safety, including scientists and practitioners from the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Life Guarding Association.

"These interactive games are the result of an incredible collaboration between many groups interested in increasing awareness and saving lives,” Jarvis said. “We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors and we want everyone to go home safely.”

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lost and Found

Q: Where are people most likely to get lost?

A: The Great Smokies

The online version of the August issue of Backpacker Magazine has an outstanding article that offers 33 essential tips to remember if you or your partner goes missing, including "ways to stay found," and what to do if you do become lost. I highly recommend reading this; whether you're a hiking newby or a grizzled outdoor veteran. Hey, everyone needs to brush up on this invaluable knowledge every now and then.

The magazine also published a pretty good video on how to get "Un-Lost" using a GPS and a topo map.

The typical person who gets lost is a male, age 38, hiking solo, during the months of July or August, in the mountains, and often lacking a map and/or compass.

Finally, Backpacker posted a very interesting Q & A with SAR Statistician Robert Koester. Koester has spent the past seven years creating the International Search and Rescue Database. With 50,000 documented incidents, it's the largest, and first, compendium of its kind in the world. He uses the data to analyze risk, and predict who will live, who will die, and, most importantly, where lost hikers may be found.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Rest Step

The "Rest Step" is a technique used by mountaineers to slow their cadence, rest their muscles, and preserve their energy while hiking on steep terrain at high altitudes. Essentially, the “rest step” takes pressure and strain off your muscles and transfers it to your bone structure.

Although it’s mainly useful on snow, or on climbs at elevation where endurance is important, it can be employed on any trail with steep slopes. It’s worked quite well for me on many trails in Glacier, Colorado and the Grand Tetons in recent years.

The tool is most effective on slopes that gain - say - more than 800 feet per mile.

Here’s how it works:

As you step forward on a climb, lock your rear knee and keep all of your weight on that rear leg. As you’re swinging your other leg forward, relax the muscles in that leg. Once your forward foot comes to rest on the ground, keep it relaxed so that there’s no weight on it. You can stop in that position for as long as you need to. When you're ready to take the next step, shift your weight to the front foot, step forward with the other and lock the rear knee again, and repeat the entire process.

The locked rear knee provides support for your weight without requiring help from the leg muscle. That means your leg, hip, and back muscles get a rest, if only for a short moment. Stay paused in that position for however long it takes to avoid running out of breath.

In this short video Ward Luthi from Walking The World demonstrates how this technique is put into action on the trail:

A mountain climber in the Himalayas may stay motionless between steps for 10 seconds or more. At lower altitudes, you might only need a half-second pause. The key is to get into a steady rhythm of doing the same thing for each step you take. You can adjust the cadence and the length of your stride according to the steepness of the terrain.

Continuous movement is a great strain on your muscles. Moreover, stopping and starting, slowing down and speeding up, wastes energy. The key to preserving your energy for the long haul is to be the tortoise, rather than the hare.

You can quickly get an idea of how this works by practicing on your steps at home. The benefits are especially clear if you can try it after a long hike, run or bike ride when your leg muscles are already tired. Go up the steps as you normally do and you’ll probably feel a little bit of a burn in your quadriceps. Now, try the rest step and notice how the burn is substantially reduced.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Logan Pass Designated First Important Plant Area in Montana

The Logan Pass area in Glacier National Park is well known for spectacular displays of summer wildflowers. This area is home to popular flowers like glacier lilies, beargrass, spring beauties, paintbrush and wandering daisies; but the area also harbors an exceptional number of rare arctic-alpine plants. There are more than 30 different rare plants and mosses in an area that covers less than three percent of the park.

As a result of the unique assemblage of sensitive species found in this small region, the Montana Native Plant Society designated the Logan Pass area last April as the first Important Plant Area (IPA) in the state of Montana.

An IPA is a special designation modeled after Important Bird Areas identified by the Audubon Society, a global program to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and biodiversity.

Jack Potter, Glacier’s Chief of Science and Resources Management, says "While these areas are not legal site designations, the IPA’s are a great tool for identifying and highlighting locations in which to focus conservation actions, research, and funding for plants and habitats." Potter also reminds park visitors that "this IPA, as with all high elevation areas in Glacier, is very sensitive to trampling and human disturbance. Sections of the Logan Pass area are even subject to seasonal closures when the soil is saturated from snowmelt. We ask visitors to follow the ‘leave no trace’ principles and stay on the trails which are the best place to view these spectacular wildflowers."

The Logan Pass IPA straddles the Continental Divide. It is located at the headwaters of the St. Mary drainage and ranges in elevation from 5,100 feet along Reynolds Creek north of Heavy Runner Mountain to 10,000 feet on Mount Siyeh. The Logan Pass region is a particular hot spot due to a wide diversity of habitats, including alpine meadows, wetlands, turf, hanging gardens, fellfields, moist and dry dwarf shrublands and more.

Within the new IPA you can find eight globally rare species and 27 different state listed sensitive species representing about 30 percent of the state-listed species found in the park. Logan Pass provides habitat for the world’s largest population of goose-grass sedge. It the only place in Montana to view glaucous gentian, running pine, Macoun’s draba, and several moss species.

The Montana Native Plant Society anticipates designating additional Important Plant Areas in coming years, as many other special areas across the state qualify for designation. More information on the program and the Logan Pass designation is available at:

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Predicting weather in the backcountry

Exposure is the leading cause of death in the mountains. One of the skills that will help keep you out of trouble while in the backcountry is learning how to predict the weather.

Deep in the wilderness it's highly unlikely you'll be able to get updated local weather forecasts. Essentially, you have to become your own forecaster.

Obviously predicting the weather is difficult - even for the local weatherman - and especially in the mountains. However, there are several things that can help hikers to better understand weather patterns.

One of those is learning how to identify cloud formations. Being able to assess the clouds approaching from a distance can help you determine if it's just a short front passing through, or a long lasting storm.

Backpacker Magazine has a very helpful article on their website that explains how to identify the various cloud formations and what they mean. They even have a quiz to help you further understood what you just read.

Having a little knowledge on weather forecasting could mean the difference between a great hike and a horrible one.

As far as keeping up with updated forecasts before heading into Glacier's backcountry, as well as finding historical climate information, please click here.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking calorie calculator

Last week I posted an article that offered tips for keeping your cool during the summer hiking season. One of the most important aspects of hiking while the mercury is high is to make sure that you stay properly hydrated.

As a follow-up, I thought I would discuss the importance of food while hiking as well.

Although most people prefer to eat foods that taste good, you need to think of food as fuel while exercising. During a long hike it’s extremely important to eat before you’re hungry. Simple sugars, carbohydrates, protein, and fat all play a roll in maximizing performance during extended exercise such as hiking. Experts in sports nutrition recommend consuming 100 – 300 calories every hour during exercise.

The best snacks for the trail are ones that provide you with high energy, such as fruit (dried or fresh), granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, GORP (trail mix), beef jerky, or even chocolate (in moderation of course!).

Personally, if I’m climbing a lot of elevation - say up to Piegan Pass as an example - I’ll mostly rely on Gatorade, Power Bars and trail mix that includes dried fruits, pretzels, nuts and M&Ms. These foods provide a lot of simple sugars and carbohydrates which offer quick release energy as I proceed up the mountain. Once on top, I’ll usually have a sandwich or peanut butter crackers. These foods tend to include more protein and fat which provide slow burning fuel for the trip back downhill. If you’re properly fueled for the trek up the mountain, your energy needs will be less going downhill.

So now the question is: How many calories do you need on any given hike? This is where the Hiking Dude comes to the rescue. He has an excellent calorie calculator on his website. What makes his calculator much better than the others I’ve found is that it takes into account your weight, plus the weight of you backpack, the distance you’ll be hiking, and how much elevation you’ll gain along the way.

This is an excellent resource that you can use to help give you a rough estimate of how much food you’ll need to pack for a long hike. You can click here to check it out.

Finally, take extra food with you in case your hike takes longer than expected for whatever reason. Throw a couple of extra energy bars in your pack. They’re light weight, and will pack a nice punch if needed.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Glacier National Park Participates in long-term Grizzly Monitoring Study

Earlier in the summer, Glacier National Park announced that it will be participating in a long-term interagency program to monitor the trend of the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Bait stations, automated cameras, and traps will be used to capture and monitor grizzly bears within the park. The program attempts to maintain a sample of up to 10 radio-marked female grizzly bears out of an estimated population of 300 grizzly bears living in the park.

Bait stations and trap sites will be marked with brightly colored warning and closure signs. For safety reasons visitors are reminded to heed and comply with these signs and not enter areas closed for baiting or trapping. A man died last year seven miles east of Yellowstone National Park after he wandered into a capture site and was attacked by a grizzly bear. Trapping efforts will continue at various locations throughout Glacier National Park beginning June through October. For further information, please contact park bear biologist, John Waller, at (406) 888-7829.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Training for a Big Hike

So, you have a big hike lined up in a couple of weeks. You’ve done your research, you know how many miles you’ll be hiking, and you know how much elevation you’ll be climbing that day, but are really ready? There’s nothing worse than getting half-way through a hike and feeling like you’ve already gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

Actually, you can avoid that feeling by doing a little training beforehand.

Whether your long distance hike is 5 miles, 10 miles, or an extreme day hike of 15 or more miles, being properly conditioned will make your hike a lot more enjoyable.

Although what’s considered to be a long hike for any individual is purely relative, we’ll use the 9.7-mile roundtrip hike to Iceberg Lake as our example of a long distance hike for purposes of this article.

The best way to train for any sporting event is to train specifically for that event. In other words, if you want to hike a long distance trail, it’s best to get out on a trail to simulate the conditions of your big day. However, for many people, finding a trail to train on may not be convenient. Walking in your local neighborhood or in a park is an excellent alternative. I’ve trained for a handful of hikes up 14K foot peaks in Colorado by walking in my own neighborhood. With peaks slightly higher than your average ant hill in my adopted hometown, I obviously wasn’t able to simulate the type of climbing I experienced in Colorado, but I was still able to sufficiently train my walking muscles.

Roughly six weeks prior to each of these hikes I created a schedule and began training in which my walking miles slowly increased.

Using the example of preparing for the 9.4-mile hike up to Iceberg Lake, you should probably start training roughly 4 weeks before the actual hike. This assumes you already have a minimal amount of conditioning. Obviously if you have no conditioning, or a lot, then this schedule would need to be altered accordingly.

During the first two weeks of training you could probably get away with walking just three days a week. During the first week, two of those walks should be at least 2-3 miles long, and the third walk should be in the 4 to 5 mile range. During the second week, you should ratchet up your long walk day to around 5 or 6 miles. The other two days should consist of walks of at least 3 miles per day. If you’re going to be climbing any significant elevation on your hike, you should try to include as many hills into your routine as possible. The Iceberg Lake Trail climbs roughly 1200 feet. For many people, this can be a strenuous hike.

During week 3, you’ll probably want to add a fourth day of walking into your schedule. Your long walk day, which preferably should be 7 days from your big hike, should now be in the 7 to 8 mile range.

During the final week before your hike, you should still be walking on at least 2 or 3 days. Each of those walks should be in the 4 to 5 mile range. If you’re already on vacation, use the days leading up to your big hike to train on some shorter trails. Make sure you’re well rested though. At a minimum, the day before your hike should be a rest day, meaning, no training on that day. You might even consider taking two days off prior to your hike. This way, your leg muscles will be well rested and you’ll be ready to conquer your goal.

If this training schedule seems a little aggressive, add another week or two up front and make the increase in miles a little more gradual.

If you don’t like the idea of walking as often as I’m recommending, throw a little cross training in. Of course running provides an excellent alternative. Cycling, treadmills and stair climbers also provide great cross-training/cardio workouts as well. However, you don’t want to rely solely on these exercises. You’ll still need to do a long walk at least once a week.

On the day of your hike, make sure you take enough food and water with you to keep your fuel and hydration levels up. See my posting about staying properly hydrated and beating the heat while hiking in the summer.

A little preparation beforehand will go a long way on the day of your big hike. Your training will give you the confidence to persevere, and you’ll feel much better when you arrive back at the trailhead. You may even have a little energy left in the reserve tank to celebrate your accomplishment after you return.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Purpose and Significance of Glacier National Park

From the Glacier National Park website.


• To preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources for future generations.

• To provide opportunities to experience, understand and enjoy the park consistent with the preservation of resources ‘in a state of nature.’

• To celebrate the ongoing peace, friendship, and goodwill among nations, recognizing the need for cooperation in a world of shared resources.


• Glacier’s scenery dramatically illustrates an exceptionally long geologic history and the many geological processes associated with mountain building and glaciation.

• Glacier offers relatively accessible spectacular scenery and increasingly rare primitive wilderness experiences.

• Glacier is at the core of the “Crown of the Continent” ecosystem, one of the most ecologically intact areas remaining in the temperate regions of the world.

• Glacier’s cultural resources chronicle the history of human activities and show that people have long place high value on the area’s natural features.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Lightning and what you can do while hiking

Lightning can be one of the most frightening hazards that hikers encounter during the summer months. With warmer weather comes an increased chance of running into a thunderstorm while out on the trail, especially during the afternoons. Hikers need to be watchful for storms that produce lightning, particularly in open areas where you may be the highest object in the immediate area.

According to the National Weather Service there are, on average, roughly 20 million lightning strikes that result in 273 injuries and 48 deaths in the U.S. each year. Those casualty figures may seem fairly low. Indeed, National Geographic estimates the odds of being struck by lightning at only 1 in 700,000 in any given year. However, over the course of a lifetime, your odds of being struck jump to 1 in 3000!

Hikers at the higher elevations in Glacier should be especially conscious about the dangers of lightning. According to the National Outdoor Leadership School, lightning density maps show lightning strikes occurring more often at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains, where the air and climate is drier.

The good news is that the number of lightning related fatalities has trended downward since 1940 when deaths were measured in the hundreds. There are probably several reasons for this, including a much better understanding of lightning, which has lead to better education on safety and avoidance.

So, what can you do if you’re out hiking and a storm approaches? The first thing you need to understand is that lightning can strike more than 10 miles away from the center of a thunderstorm - well beyond the audible range of thunder. Therefore, if you hear thunder, you’re already within striking range of a storm and should seek shelter immediately.

To measure the distance between you and a lightning strike, count the number of seconds between the time you see a flash and the bang of thunder. Divide that number by five. This will give you the number of miles the lighting strike is away from you.

If you do caught by a storm, and you’re below treeline, here are a few things that you can do to improve your safety:

• Buildings with exposed openings such as backcountry camping shelters or picnic pavilions are not safe.
• Avoid caves as they can channel electricity fairly well.
• Avoid close contact with others. Spread out at least 50 feet apart in order to minimize the chance of everyone in a group being struck.
• Get away from water, and avoid any low spots that accumulate rain run-off.
• With no other options, take shelter under a group of shorter trees among larger trees. A thick forest is far better than a lone tree or a small group of trees.
• Drop all metal objects during a storm, such as internal or external frame backpacks, trekking poles (including aluminum and carbon fiber), crampons, jewelry, etc., and move 100 feet away from them.

If you’re out in the open or above treeline:

• Avoid solitary trees – they’re one of the most dangerous places to be during a storm. Also, avoid any other objects that are higher than the rest of the terrain around you.
• If you can’t immediately get below treeline, find the lowest point of open area and move there quickly.
• Adopt the lightning position as a last resort: Crouch down on the balls of your feet and keep them as close together as possible. Cover your ears, and don’t allow other body parts to touch the ground. By keeping the surface area of your body in contact with the ground to a minimum you reduce the threat of electricity traveling across the ground from affecting you. Keep in mind that this position should only be used as a last resort.

A recent study analyzing lightning victims in Florida found that most people were struck either prior to the storm (rain) reaching their location, or after the storm (rain) had ended. Most of the people that were struck were either near water or near/under trees.

If you feel hairs on your head, leg, or arms tingling and/or standing on end, it means you’re in an extremely high electrical field. If you or any member of your group experiences any of these signs, take it as an indication of immediate and severe danger. The response to any of these signs is to instantly (seconds matter) move away from long conductors (metal fencing, power lines), tall trees, or high points, and spread out and adopt the lightning position.

For more information, including first aid for victims, please click here and here.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tips for keeping your cool in the summer

Summer hiking season is already upon us. Anyone who has ever been to Glacier National Park during the summer knows how hot it can get in the Northern Rockies. I’d like to offer some tips for beating the heat during the summer months.

Before we dive into anything else, I would like to emphasize that the most important thing about hiking during the summer is staying properly hydrated. Hiking in hot, dry weather depletes your body of liquids. To replace lost fluids and electrolytes you need to drink frequently. If you wait until you feel thirsty, you’ll more than likely already be dehydrated. The more dehydrated you become, the less efficient your body is at cooling itself down, thus making your body become less efficient at walking.

Make sure you take plenty of water or some type of sports drink with you on any hike. Sports drinks are excellent sources of liquids because they replace both fluids and electrolytes. Good old Gatorade gets the job done for me.

You can sweat anywhere from 1/2 to 1 quart of fluid for every hour you walk in the heat. This fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 3 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day.

When it's really hot, my wife and I will fill a couple of water bottles about half-way and stick them in the freezer the night before. Then, just before leaving for our hike the next day, we'll top-off the bottles with cold water. This way we'll have cool water to drink for a much longer time on the trail. Please note that you don't want to put a full bottle of water in the freezer as it will crack the plastic.

If you’re thinking about drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia lamblia, a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.

To help offset the effects of fatigue, bring a lunch and/or snack with you. Food is your body's primary source for fuel and salts (electrolytes) while hiking. Try eating a salty snack every time you take a drink.

Finally, stay away from sodas and alcohol as they will only promote dehydration.

Besides staying properly hydrated, there are a few other things you can do to help avoid over-heating while out on the trail.

For one, go slowly and rest often. Also, try hiking in the early morning as this is coolest part of the day.

Summer also provides a great opportunity to explore trails at the higher elevations in the park where it’s naturally cooler. Keep in mind, however, that the summer season can bring thunderstorms to Glacier. Never ascend above tree line when there’s lightning in the vicinity. If you’re already above tree line when a thunderstorm approaches you’ll want to descend immediately.

Wear moisture-wicking clothing made of polypropylene or polyester to carry sweat and moisture away from your body. Moisture-wicking material keeps you dryer, cooler and more comfortable than a sweat-soaked cotton shirt. It’s also a good idea to wear light colored clothing because it tends to reflect heat away from your body.

Wearing a hat - a baseball hat, or, preferably, a wide-brimmed hat - will help protect your face and neck from the sun. Don’t forget sunscreen either. Sun-burned skin makes you feel hotter.

Finally, you should be aware of heat related health issues on the trail. As part of your first aid training you should know the signs for heat exhaustion, heatstroke and even hyponatremia; and know what to do if someone in your party has any of these signs.

* For additional safety tips, please click here.

* To make sure you have all the essentials before heading out on the trail, please review our hiking checklist.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Campground closings this weekend

This weekend, several campgrounds in Glacier National Park will be closing for the season. Campgrounds closing on Monday, September 12th, include:

* Bowman Lake

* Kintla Lake

* Rising Sun

* Sprague Creek

Two Medicine and Many Glacier will close on Monday, September 19th. Logging Creek will close the following week on September 26th.

Please click here for the full schedule.

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