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A Dozen Ways to Die

How do hikers meet their maker in the backcountry? The answers may surprise you.

Less Common but Still Lethal

8. Suicide When wilderness SAR teams respond to a frontcountry call, chances are the distressed party is what the ISRID lists as a “despondent.” Suicides are especially common in national parks, but the victims tend to launch from drive-up cliffs and other accessible spots. Backcountry suicides are much less frequent–only a handful are reported annually. Advice: Call a suicide hotline, if for no other reason than to spare rangers the worst task they face.

9. Flash Flood Deaths due to flash floods are quite rare, and occur almost exclusively in canyoneering environments. But when they do kill, floods tend to take out groups, keeping the fatality average up around two per year. The good news: Almost every deadly incident we investigated resulted from an unwillingness to turn back despite obvious weather warnings. Advice: “If you’re heading to a slot canyon, have a fallback plan,” says Shane Burrows of Climb-Utah.com. “Then, if the weather’s bad, you won’t feel so determined to go on with your vacation.”

10. Insects
Ticks and mosquitoes Every year, hundreds of people fall victim to the illnesses carried by these tiny pests. The list includes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, encephalitis, and West Nile. Advice: Apply deet-based insect repellent, do frequent tick checks, and wear bug-net clothing if necessary. Bees, wasps, and fire ants These 50 to 60 annual deaths almost always involve allergic reactions. Advice: If you’re sensitive, carry an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl, or a prescription epinephrine injector pen.

11. Snakes and spiders Several thousand people are bitten by snakes in the United States every year, but only 12 to 14 of them die. “Without antivenom,” says Langley, “there would be many more deaths.” While black widow and brown recluse spiders are the most dangerous species, years often pass without a fatal spider bite in the United States. Advice: Keep the limb cold to reduce swelling, and get to a hospital as soon as possible.

12. Predators
Alligators Gators have claimed 5 victims in the last 12 months, but only 30 in the last half-century. Most attacks occur in lakeside Florida suburbs and on golf courses. Advice: Don’t linger on the banks of gator-country swamps, particularly at night.

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