The exceptional views and activity on Tri-Valley’s trails are calling us! Thanks to recent rains, many plants and wildlife are thriving, which is a great thing to see on your hike. With proper attention to trail safety, we are in for some extraordinary adventures this year. Part of the fun of the outdoors is that you never know what you might see. Knowing the best way to handle some of the unexpected situations can help people feel more comfortable exploring nature. Richard Deets shared his top tips from his Search and Rescue experience to help you adventure into spring safely.
by Richard Deets, Volunteer, and Former Search and Rescue Squad Member
The drought may be over! It’s a great time to enjoy our open spaces! Two years of above average precipitation means good conditions for accelerated plant growth and animal survival. That means our favorite day hiking trails will welcome us with exceptional views and activity! With proper attention to trail safety, we are in for some extraordinary adventures this year. I have hiked thousands of miles in my life time. I have never been attacked or bitten by any wildlife. Nevertheless, for every outing, I go prepared – safety first.
First, before you start any physical activity, you really should get a doctor’s blessing. If you’ve been inactive for a considerable length of time, your doctor may recommend other programs or preventive measures.
While some of these day hiking safety tips may seem obvious, they all deserve our full attention. Plan ahead – an ounce of preparation can help avoid unexpected problems. You can get Tri-Valley trail maps from the Tri-Valley Conservancy office as well as many local sporting goods stores. Once a trail has been selected, let people at home know and tell them your expected time of return. Those people serve as your backup in case you get lost or injured and need help. Remember to call them upon your return.
Never Hike Alone
There is safety in numbers. Always have at least one other person with you. Otherwise, you have to accept the risk of having no one able to aid you if you get lost or injured. When you get to the trailhead, if a sign-in sheet is available, sign-in with date and time. If there is a ranger station at the trailhead, let a ranger know about your plans. Plan a hike that is suitable for everyone in your party and remember that the slowest person should set the pace.
Check the weather forecast a few days before your planned day hike and again before you leave home for your hike. If rain is a possibility, throw some light weight rain gear in your day pack. If cooler temperatures are in the forecast, cotton clothing has very poor insulating properties; wool is the best insulator. The next best is layering – shirt, sweater, jacket. Long loose fitting pants and comfortable above the ankles hiking boots are standard dress.
Bring and use sunscreen, lip balm, and a hat to prevent sunburn, even on cloudy or cold days. Don’t forget prescription medicines that your doctor wants you to keep available at all times. Carry a basic first aid kit including at least one ace bandage for sprained ankles or other leg problems. Amazon and REI have wonderful first aid kits for day hiking that you can buy and adjust as needed for under $15. Carry a cell phone for emergencies. The two Tri-Valley hospitals with 24/7 emergency room services are Valley Care Medical Center in Pleasanton and San Ramon Regional Medical Center in San Ramon.
Stay on the Trails!
Not only does this help preserve the natural environment, it minimizes your chances of injuries. Children and slower adults should be positioned between more experienced adults – one adult in the lead and one bringing up the rear. Bring a leash for each pet. Snakes, lizards, ground nesting bees, ticks and rodents live in tall grasses and bushes near trails. Another issue is poison oak which has leaves that look like oak leaves, usually three leaflets but sometimes up to seven on each leaf group and grows as a vine or a shrub. In early spring the young leaves are green or sometimes light red. In late spring and summer the foliage is glossy green and later turns attractive shades of orange and red. Contact with poison oak leaves or stems at any time of the year can cause an allergic response.
For every 2 hours (that’s one hour in and one hour back to your vehicle) you should bring at least a liter of water, preferably in a stainless steel container, for yourself. If you have kids, other adults or a pet hiking with you, they should have their own water. Drink some water before starting the day hike; then, drink a little water often while hiking to stay hydrated. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are pretty serious business and when you are hiking the last thing you need is to get delirious.
Eat a healthy breakfast before you leave home. A short day hike requires a quart size sealable bag of simple, tasty snacks for each person. Pausing for a rest, munching on a handful of trail mix speckled with M&Ms and then continuing your hike is all it takes. Small snacks often will keep your energy level up rather than waiting for a big lunch meal after you’ve emptied your body’s reserves.
Waterfalls and Swift Moving Water
Do not attempt to climb up the side of a water fall! The area is mossy and wet. You will most likely come tumbling down causing paralysis or life threatening injuries.
Stay out of swift moving water in creeks! Water moving at just 5 miles an hour can knock down a healthy adult resulting in critical injuries or even death.
Stay out of dry creek beds. Snowmelts from higher elevations or sudden rain showers can release flash floods in dry creek beds. The fast moving thunderous water and debris gives you virtually zero chance of escaping to higher safe ground. Flash floods are the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.
Most snakes are harmless and beneficial! Snakes will eat common pests, such as rodents, insects, and amphibians. When encountering a snake you should steer clear, avoid it and leave it alone!
Avoid rattlesnakes altogether. If you see one, don’t try to get closer to it or catch it or kill it. If you don’t have a telescopic lens on your camera that allows you to capture the photo from a considerable distance, don’t try to get closer for that fantastic shot with your smart phone – you will get bitten. The best way to deal with a snake bite is to prevent it altogether by avoiding snakes, following universal precautions – keep your hands and feet away from areas where you cannot see, like between rocks or in tall grass, where rattlesnakes like to rest. On the trail, stay at least six feet away and keep animals on a leash and children under control. Stay still until it is safe to slowly back up and give the snake room to leave the scene.
Don’t assume a snake isn’t poisonous if it doesn’t rattle. Rattlers sometimes strike silently; their behavior is unpredictable (especially the young ones) and they are good swimmers.
If you are bitten by a poisonous snake while on a day-hike, call 911 on your cell phone. If possible, take these steps while waiting for medical help (By Mayo Clinic Staff):
- Remain calm and move beyond the snake’s striking distance.
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
- Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
- Clean the wound, but don’t flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
- Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.
- Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed the rate at which your body absorbs venom.
Although snake bites can be scary, it is rare for someone to die from a snake bite. “Only one in 50 million people will die from snakebite (5-6 fatalities per year) because we have available, high-quality medical care in the U.S.” (Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation).
Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. There have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California since 1890. The last documented attack occurred in January, 2007, in Humboldt County. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)
If you sight a mountain lion while on a trail, keep children and pets (on leashes) close to you. Be alert below ledges or steep slopes. If you encounter a mountain lion at close range:
- Stand tall and face the animal, but do not approach it; you may back away slowly while facing the animal, but do not turn around run or walk away from or past it
- Make eye contact
- Pick up any small children without crouching down or turning your back to do so
- Leave a route for the lion to use as an escape
- Make yourself appear as large as possible: wave your arms slowly up and down or open your coat. Talk at the lion in a loud, firm voice and blow your whistle. Courtesy: East Bay Regional Park District.
Coyotes are solitary and nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and hunt at night. They tend to avoid human contact. If you should encounter a coyote, apply the same precautions recommended for mountain lion encounters.
Finally – Go have fun!
It’s truly gorgeous out on the trails. We hope these tips help you get out and experience nature! While you’re out there, consider capturing a photo of the beautiful lands that you help protect