Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On The Safe Side Of Wild - How to ensure safety on a trek

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Courtesy: torturedsquid.tabulas.com
The loving, caring image of mother nature and its intoxicating beauty conceals the dangers that lie in its lap. "Dangers" may not be the right word here because nature is not in conflict with humans, its merely indifferent to our feelings. Wilderness is as unconcerned to our pleasures as it is to our miseries. On one side lies the fragrance of life, on the other entrapments of death. Painting nature in dark and bright is purely subjective depending on where we stand in comparison to other constituents. Death of an organism may be horrifying for it, but life saving for other starving organisms. Perplexed in its attraction, our mind often ignore this indifference towards us and if we do not watch our steps, we might fall prey to the traps that lie in darkness.
We have grown in the comfortable environment of civilization, in the nursing hands of fellow human beings. Hence, it comes naturally to us that somebody is there to take care in case of emergency. However, the jungles are different, it doesn't come with the comforts we grew up with. There are no ambulance, no hospital. It is not easy to even carry the injured person back to civilization. We have seen accidents occurring under seemingly safe conditions, death creeping in from nowhere.

Nature is unpredictable. We have to understand this very unpredictability and not just presume the situation to be a replica of civil society sans people. Walking on the flat roads of the cities, we have forgotten that the natural state of earth is uneven. If you walk in the forest as you walk on the roads, you are destined to fall.

So, how do we protect ourselves from the beast that lies beneath the beauty? Enumerated below are few points that would help ensure safety while conducting ourselves in the jungles:

Pre-Trek Preparations:
  1. Shoes: Make sure your shoes are not torn or in bad shape. We often realize the pathetic condition of the shoes while on trek. Often, people get a worn out shoe being greedy to dirtify the new pair.
  2. Clothing: Do not wear jeans as they limit movement of legs and become heavy when wet. Wear quick dry material preferably full sleeve tops and bottoms to avoid being bothered by thorns.
  3. Navigation:
    A. Get GPS device. This is a very cheap insurance against getting lost in jungle. When separated from the group and lost in jungle, you would be fairly easily able to track back your path and return to civilization.
    B. Get Android Phone: If you find yourself uncomfortable to invest in a device that you would use very rarely, then buy an GPS-enabled Android phone. They come as cheap ask Rs 5000. Buy couple more batteries for the phone as battery would run out much faster when you use GPS. Install Orux Maps from Google Play. Now, your phone would be as good as a handheld GPS. Orux Maps would help you log your trail and follow it back in case you are lost. You can even download maps very easily on Orux Maps.
    C. Ask the organizer about the location and preferably about the trail. You can load the trail in GPS or Android phone making getting lost even more difficult. Look at maps, terrain and satellite views, to get a hang of the area. Even if you don't understand the maps completely, knowing which direction is civilization can make the difference between life and death.
  4. Flotation Device: If you are a non-swimmer or not confident of managing wild water, get a swimming tube. It costs just Rs 60 and can be gotten from any sports shop. Alternatively you can also buy a sleeping mat (expanded polyethylene foam) and tie it to your backpack. In case you fall in deep waters, you might not have chance to blow up the swimming tube and the foam would come handy.
On-Trek Precautions:
  1. Mind Your Steps:
    A. Do not go close to the edges/cliff. The rock beneath your feet may give up or a sudden cold breeze may make you shiver enough to lose balance.
    B. Check what are you stepping on. There may be a reptile/snake. It may be a hole covered by leafs. It may be a loose rock.
    C. While climbing slopes, make sure you are not unsettling any loose rock which may hit the person behind you.
    D. If you see a loose rock rolling down, try to stop it when it starts rolling down. If it is allowed to roll down, it will gain momentum and would hit hard to anyone on its way.
    E. Avoid walking on slippery/wet rocks.
    F. Venture into deep water only if you know good swimming and can manage yourself in adverse conditions. Unlike swimming pools, the dark water of natural pools conceal the rocks beneath which vastly vary in height. You might hurt yourself while swimming or get stuck in crevasses underneath water level.
    G. Look around and be aware of your surrounding. This is the only way to keep away from the forthcoming troubles, in the form of ditch, snake, or flash floods. If you are to engrossed in talking with fellow trekker or listening to music, you are likely to miss signs of trouble and the beauty of the wilderness as well.
    F. If you are having any sort of difficulty, talk about it. Do not hide it from fellow trekkers for the sake of your ego or for whatever reasons. A neglected simple chest pain or shortness of breath can be fatal. Pushing your limits is what trekking means but be careful not to push yourself off the cliff of life.
  2. Group Behavior:
    A. Be in the group. Never go far from the group alone.
    B. Do not lose sight of the person ahead of you. It is easy to get lost in jungles. If you don't see the person ahead of you, give a hoot and get in visual contact with him/her.
    C. Occasionally keep a check on the person behind you. If you don't see anybody behind, ask people ahead to wait and check for the person behind you.
    D. Avoid trekking after dusk. If unavoidable, be extra careful to place your steps. You might step on snakes accidentally.
    E. Alert people coming behind about the hurdles and dangers you might face, e.g., thorns, loose rocks, slippery surface, etc.
    F. An individual to the team is like an organ to the body. Keep aside your personal interests aside while trekking. A single instance of selfish behavior can be costly in a hostile environment of the jungle.
    G. Use rope or human chain to cross rivers and streams. River currents are unpredictable and may present you with surprises.
  3. Water, the lifeline:
    A. Drink as much water as possible when near a water source such as streams and refill bottles to carry along. The concept that drinking more water makes it difficult to walk is kind of false here where hydration is the first priority.
    B. Always try to keep the bottles filled as you never know when water would become a scarcity.
    C. Use stored water, that you are carrying, judiciously.
    D. Always preserve 1 L water for emergency situations and never use it otherwise.
    E. Save fruits and energy bars for emergency when water and quick energy becomes scarce. Ideally, fruits, dry fruits, and energy bars should remain in your backpack till the end of the trek when you are sure not be faced with any unforeseen circumstances any further.
  4. Camp Smart:
    A. Ensure that there are no beehives around before you start making fire. They might not like your culinary skills.
    B. Do not drop food and leave them there. Animals can smell it from distance and might be attracted. Elephants are known to smell a speck of salt from kilometers and they love to lick it.
    D. Pack all your food stuff inside the bag before hitting the sleeping bag. You don't want to invite animals while you are asleep, do you?
    D. Do not sleep away from rest of the gang. You may make yourself a lone subject of amusement and curiosity for wild animals.
  5. Wildlife:
    A. Keep the noise level low so as not to attract/disturb wildlife.
    B. If you find animals, just get out of their way and sight. Do not mess with them however harmless they seem.
    C. If you see animals and they have seen you too, don't panic or run away. Talk slowly and mildly to make them aware of your presence and tell them that you are not scared. Do not shout and scare them. Move out of their territory slowly.
Anything else you feel I've missed? Please comment.

Related: How Not To Drown - A nonswimmer's guide to survival
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19 comments:

  1. Nice one, really needs to considered while we are stepping into the wild. Awareness of this can help us in saving life's of ourselves and others too

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  2. very true and a nice guidelines.

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  3. 1. Watch out for any thorns or loose rocks and
    inform the person coming behind you.

    2. Watch out for any snake, insects or wasps during the trek, if you find anything alert the people around you.

    3. If you are staying overnight, sleep near the campfire (neither too close and nor too faraway).

    4. Carry some basic medicine for body pain, head ache, cold, sprain etc.,

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  4. nice one ravi. perhaps the freshers should ask for help and also help in crossing hurdles. one of our senior trekker got injured during one of our recent treks because of the negligence of one new trekker !

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  5. Quite useful tips for freshers Ravi. A pen knife, small torch and a whistle can be quite handy in case someone misses trail and it becomes dark.

    Ajit Menon

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  6. i have never been on a trek. though registered many times only to be left out after shortlisting.
    I wanted to ask, that while asleep, how do we protect ourselves from the snakes and other insects.

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  7. Thanks guys for the comments. I'll edit the post and include your suggestions.

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  8. Anonymous: To my understanding, snakes are unlike human beings and would not purposefully come and bite you. So, while you are asleep and it is highly unlikely that you might die due to snake bite.

    Insects may be irritating but not a big trouble. In any case, you may use some insect-repellent lotion and/or cover yourself inside the sleeping bag.

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  9. Very nicely written n really good food for thot

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  10. I have come across most of these experience. will be useful for everybody.

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  11. Aravind BalasubramanianNovember 2, 2010 at 10:53 PM

    b4 going to sleep makesure you have put all foodstuff into air tight bags so that insects dont smell it out and attack your bags. Makesure you have you have washed the food bowels of the remanents lest you will be attacked by ants (we were all ant attacked at 11 pm (all camps) in the recent nagari combo. check your shoes and bags for hidden insects/reptiles in the morning. preferably empty and repack to confirm. please see refine and update this very important point.

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    Replies
    1. Excellent, though mostly related to bear country. nothing-- absolutely nothing-- that smells sweet in your possession, including toothpaste with mint. or, for that matter, anything that smells like food. :)

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  12. information when shared is useful......and this information that Ravi shared is very much useful for me....and my fellow trkkers....thanks friend......btw i liked the way u explained the raw nature......kudos bro!!!

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  13. useful tips and nicely written

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  14. மிகவும் பயனுள்ள தகவல்.அதிசயங்களும்,ரகசியங்களும் உள்ளடங்கிய காடுகளையும் மலைகளையும் நாம் மதிக்கும் போது மட்டுமே நம் பயணம் ரசிக்கதக்க ஒன்றாக இருக்கும் என்பதை விளங்கிக் கொண்டோம்.நன்றி

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  15. To translate the above comment:

    "Very useful information. I understood that only when we begin to respect the surprises and secrets of forests and mountains, will the journey become enjoyable. Thanks."

    Very good post, Ravi.

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Creative constructive criticism is accepted and expected.