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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Natural Born Killers: Top Backcountry Dangers

Which is the bigger backcountry threat, grizzlies or flash floods? Find out what should scare you–and how to survive it–with BACKPACKER's Terror Index.

by: Jason Stevenson

(Photo by Michael Francis)
(Photo by Michael Francis)
(Photo by Mark Carroll)
(Photo by Mark Carroll)

130    SNAKES
Danger Hemotoxic venom that causes intense pain, swelling, hemorrhaging, and organ failure
Body count Approximately 7,000 people suffer venomous snakebites each year, and an average of six die. Diamondback rattlesnakes account for 95 percent of all serpent fatalities; highly aggressive western diamondback rattlers live in the Southwest, while the larger eastern variety ranges from North Carolina to Louisiana.
Best defense Here's an idea: Don't harass a venomous snake. A full two-thirds of bites result from victims intentionally messing with a fanged reptile. Keep your eyes peeled when walking through tall grass or gathering firewood; when scrambling, avoid unseen handholds on sunny ledges where rattlers like to bask.

Danger Slow suffocation under a crushing mound of snow–or hypothermia, if your oxygen lasts that long
Body count It's not just backcountry skiers who are at risk: Last year, six of the 33 people killed by avalanches in the U.S. were hikers and snowshoers.
Best defense Take a course in recognizing snow hazards. Check the avalanche report before departing. If you're caught, shed skis, try to swim for the surface as the slide slows, and create an air space by placing your hands in front of your face.

Bad luck. The 37-year-old Olympic-champion wrestler has survived: a plane crash in Lake Powell (after which he swam for more than an hour in 44°F water and made it through a night without shelter); a snowmobile accident in the Idaho wilderness (after which he was stranded for a night in -25°F weather and lost a toe to frostbite); a motorcycle crash; and an arrow to the gut.
Body count None ... yet.
Best defense Decline all invitations to join Gardner on any outdoor adventure. In fact, avoid Gardner altogether.

120    ROCKS
Danger A volleyball-size chunk of granite hurtling toward your head at terminal velocity
Body count Accidents in North American Mountaineering reported a total of 610 deaths or injuries from falling rocks or ice between 1951 to 2006. And in 1996, a 30,000-cubic-yard rockslide in Yosemite's Happy Isles area killed one hiker and seriously injured several more.
Best defense Don't hike/scramble below others, who may knock rocks loose. Wear a helmet on steep routes, look out for debris on the trail, and watch for rockfall after springtime freeze-thaw cycles.

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Mike Outdoors
Nov 21, 2013

I liked your page on Facebook and was thinking about subscribing to your magazine. Articles like this scare people away from outdoor activities, especially people thinking about starting outdoor activities. Considering people have a much higher chance of being killed in a car driving to the trail head, 40,000 fatal car crashes per year in the USA. And physical inactivity kills an estimated 5.3 million people a year. I don't understand why an outdoor magazine would promote how many ways someone can be killed by outdoor activity. Why not promote the physical and psychological benefits of outdoor activities instead of scaring people? I honestly don't think the person that is writing these articles has actually been an outdoors man.

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Clint McPhee
Oct 12, 2010

Gary, this is one of those guys that came from Waco on that rescue operation to McKittrick Ridge. Shoot me and email or look for me on Facebook. email (at) clintmcphee (dot) com

Jan 27, 2009

Here another 'backcountry killer' -- The lack of going there. Many people die from just sitting still and dying a slow cubicle-to-car-to-couch existence. Get up, put on your shoes and get outside. You may find something worth living for in God's big green earth!

Jan 23, 2009

Let's face it. If you are not struck by lightning, or attacked by an animal, you probably killed yourself. Most people die because they are trying to do something they shouldn't be doing or they are doing something stupid. If you try to cross a rain swollen river and die, the river didn't kill you. You killed yourself in a river. THINK BEFORE ACTING. We have two or three deaths per year in the Red River Gorge Geological Area from people falling off 100-300 ft. high cliffs. Most come down to Ky to visit this unbelievably beautiful area from Southern Ohio. They are usually walking or hiking at night in an EXTREMELY dangerous area.

Roleigh Martin
Jan 01, 2009

Please provide a statistic on how many people suffer heart attacks while backpacking, is such information known? Approximated? Guessed? Any supporting URLs? Thanks!

Justin Reading
Dec 26, 2008

This was very informative, a few stats were wrong but otherwise entertaining... Water cools at quicker paces than 5 times, pretty sure anyway it's closer to 25

Gary Carver NPS Ranger
Dec 03, 2008

I would question your stats on one person a year killed by pumas. My research indicates about twenty killed in the last 110 years in the U.S. and Canada. Let me know if I am wrong.
I would also question 12 murders a year in National Parks, I have worked homicides in BIBE and SHEN and think that number is high unless you count bodies dumped in places like Joshua Tree and Mojave. Again let me know so I can pass the information on to hikers, backpackers and visitors.

Shaggy Moose
Nov 28, 2008

AMOEBAS! That freaked me out the most of them all.


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