Preparations: Doing Your Research

Usually the basis of a hike is to explore a national park or some other area of wilderness via a predefined trail. While exploring generally means ‘discovering as we go’ it’s still important to know a few things about the trail before we set out. With so much information available to us via the internet it shouldn’t take long to a little research and find out some of what we might expect. Here are a few things it’s suggested to look into:

Weather

We all know weather is a changeable thing and while forecasts aren’t always accurate it’s still handy to know what kind of weather we might be facing. Many people prefer to hike in fine weather, so if it’s going to downpour, maybe schedule the hike for another time.

But sometimes weather is just a mental challenge, something determined and prepared for. After all isn’t hiking about being in nature and isn’t weather a big part of nature? In saying that, there are some forms of extreme weather that should definitely not be hiked in, in particular very heavy rains – which can cause flash floods and landslides, and heat waves – which can cause heat exhaustion and rapid dehydration. Whatever the weather, if you decide to hike, pack accordingly.

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Are Bookings Required?

Some national parks require a permit before you can hike in them while others only require permits to camp overnight. Most permits are purchased ahead of time as there are often limits to the number of people allowed on a trail at a given time, or the number of camping spaces are limited. Permits must be carried at all times, attached to packs or to tents in camping spots. Park Rangers will ask to see this permit and are well within their rights to impose fines or expel you immediately from the park. Most permits are obtained online, through the national park office or at trailhead.

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Dangers of the Trail

The wilderness is a dangerous place, so be aware of any dangers on the trail.

Physical Dangers
Many trails have cliffs, rocky climbs, slippery trails, windy passes, rock slides, areas subject to scrub fires and the like. Details of injuries, deaths or rescues that have occurred on the trail should be easy to find. Most are caused by lack of planning or stupidity, but all should give clues as to where to be especially careful. If concerned contact a park ranger or don’t hike these areas alone.

Living Dangers of the Trail
It’s the fauna and flora in a particular area that may cause the most danger. Research will give not only plentiful insights about what dangers there are but also how to deal with them.

Plants – While it’s common sense, it’s worth mentioning here… Do not eat any wild mushrooms or berries found along the trail as they can cause sickness or even death. Those aside, there are many plants that can cause burns, blistering or worse, simply by touching their leaves. Stinging nettle is a good example of this.

Another example is the Gympie Gympie tree of Queensland, Australia, which has leaves covered in tiny hairs. A simple touch of these hairs can transmit a neurotoxin that will cause pain for weeks or even months. Enough exposure to the plant’s neurotoxin has caused death in animals and humans alike. Beware.

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Beasts – National parks are protected wilderness areas that usually have varieties of wild animals living in them. This could be anything from the rampaging Iguanas of Australia that when frightened climb trees, occasionally mistaking humans for trees… There may also be monkeys, rats, possums and even some birds, that will tear or chew their way into your tent or hiking pack looking for food.

In many areas there are larger more dangerous beasts that can mistake the unwary hiker as its next meal. These include the likes of pumas, crocodiles, or packs of marauding dingoes. Care should also be taken around free roaming cattle. While many people think them domestic animals, they are actually responsible for more hiking injuries and deaths than any other animal.

Snakes – The silent threat in many counties are snakes as they often blend in with their surroundings. Tread carefully and always be on the look out for them as accidentally standing on one can cause it to strike. Snakes can often be found sitting in a patch of sunshine on the trail. If encountered give them a wide berth and do not kill them, they have as a much right to be there as you do.

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Insects – It’s important to know if there are dangerous smaller creatures in a particular area. While flies can be annoying in hot climates and biting flies even more so, mosquitos in certain regions may carry dangerous diseases. Check online for information about preventatives and protections for diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Ticks are also annoying and potentially dangerous. Know how to check for tick bites and carry a set of tweezers in your first aid kit to remove them.

Leaches – While these pests can do little harm on their own, in swarms they are particularly onerous. Leaches inhabit warm wet locations and latch onto you from any direction, but most usually from the ground by climbing onto your boots. Be especially careful of your eyes when swimming in infested areas.

Spiders – Spiders are everywhere and many like to hide in clothing and packs. Ensure you check boots and equipment left outside your tent in case they’ve taken residence in them overnight. A more lurking danger are larger spiders that have slung webs across the trail. Coming face-to-face with a Bird-eating spider or the Orb-weaver is not a pleasant experience.

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Humans – In the remote areas of some countries foreign hikers have been targeted by locals looking for money and valuables. Stories have filtered around about hikers being held up at gunpoint, assaulted and even murdered. Many countries have laws against foreign hikers walking without guides or forcing them to only walk specific trails where protection is provided. On these trails, armed members of the local police or army patrol regularly. If however, you’re planning a remote hike in a foreign country and are genuinely concerned about the threat of locals, DO NOT go. Choose a trail that’s better organised and known to be patrolled, and live to hike another day.

Overall, there are too many living dangers to relate here. Do your research and know what you’re likely to come up against and be as prepared as possible.

In a future post I’ll provide more details of how to protect yourself against many of the creatures noted on this post.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

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