Frequently Asked Questions
General Wilderness Information

Information about snakes, bears, mountain lion and avalanche issues

Snakes
Q: What are the chances of surviving a rattlesnake bite?
A: 99.7% is the national average for surviving a rattlesnake bite.

This high number can be attributed to today’s fast access to the emergency medical system. It can also be attributed to the fact that a rattlesnake will inject more venom into a rat than a person because the person is not food and the snake does not want to hold the bite for more than a second or two.

Q: Should I try to walk out of the wilderness if I'm bitten by a poisonous snake?
A: That depends on how long it will take to get to the hospital. Remember that first-aid, mostly in the form of suction, does very little for a snake bite. The best treatment is anti-venom which is usually only found in an emergency room. If you can NOT walk calmly and easily to a car or ambulance within a few minutes, seriously consider arranging for a helicopter to transport you to a hospital. They are quite affordable compared to the value of your life.

An alternative to a helicopter is a litter evacuation. This is often a good choice for a long hike out and when there are enough people around to carry the make-shift litter and no outside communication can be established.

Don't forget to take a cell phone when hiking (unless you are carrying and emergency room in your pocket). The direct numbers to several helicopter companies with qualified mountain pilots are also helpful.

Q: How do I treat a poisonous snake bite?
A: There are different and conflicting methods to treat a poisonous snake bite. Many of these methods are outdated because research has shown them to be ineffective or dangerous. The recommended method also changes from area to area. Find what the most current local protocol is and use it. You may want to discard the outdated instructions that came with your snake bite kit.

Here is a list of facts related to snake bite treatment:

1. The best treatment for a poisonous snake bite is anti-venom which is usually only found in an emergency room. Use the suctioning device in the snake bite kit only if it does not slow your transportation to the hospital, i.e. during the ride or while waiting for your ride. If the trip to the hospital is less than 30 minutes, don't even bother with the suction.

2. There are two main types of suctioning devices. One looks like a squeezable cup and the other looks like a syringe with a cup attached to the end. The syringe type works best. It is very helpful if the cup at the end of the syringe is clear for easier monitoring.

3. Don't suction with the mouth. One, it may be dangerous and two, it is very very ineffective. Researchers found that the venom does not affect mucus membrane which is what the entire inside of your mouth is made of. The fault is, there may be cuts, scrapes, blisters, cavities, chapped lips, or many other imperfections in your mouth that will pass the venom into your blood stream. Also, your mouth can only produce a fraction of the amount of suction that a mechanical suction device can and some people have slowed down transportation by taking time to suction by mouth, which is a big mistake.

4. Check with your local protocol about constrictor bands. Most doctors agree that it is ineffective and dangerous. Some people often try to include it in the treatment in a effort to do more. Also, snake bite kit manufactures feel silly selling only the suction device (which is about the only useful piece in the kit). Definitely do NOT use the constrictor band if you don't know precisely what you are doing.

5. Don't go slicing up the patient with the lance. It does not effectively increase the amount of venom that will be suctioned and usually only adds to the injury.

6. Take a good look at the snake. Catch the snake of it can be done safely. Either of these actions will help the doctor identify which anti-venom to use. Catching a snake is usually done with a long stick, but if you haven't been shown how, don't try it.

Remember, it is best to focus on the quick transportation to the emergency room.

Q: Why do the FAQs only talk about rattlesnakes?
A: The FAQs only talk about rattlesnake bites because they are the most common poisonous snake bite in the United States, with about 4,500 bites per year. Also, it is more familiar to most people and all snake bites should receive the same pre-hospital treatment.

 

Bears and Mountain Lions
Q: What should I do if I see a bear or mountain lion?
A: Seeing one of these animals is extremely rare in our area. The following is good to know since these animals are more common in other wilderness areas in Southern California.

Many people strongly disagree on what is considered the appropriate reaction to bears. Here are some things to consider:

What kind of bear is it? Black bears and Grizzly bears are very different in size, attitude, and knowledge of humans.

Will shouting or making noise scare it away or will it cause a defensive attack? What should be done with California bears, may be a bad idea other parts of the world. These FAQs were made with the intent to error on the side of caution.

What you should do if you see a bear or mountain lion:
1) Face the animal, don't stare into the eyes, and walk backwards slowly.
2) Speak to the animal in a calming monotone voice.
3) Do not wave you arms or yell, especially if you are close and have surprised it.

Q: Should fight or play dead if I get attacked by a bear or mountain lion?
A: That depends....is the animal trying to protect itself or eat you?

If you surprised it on the trail or you got near it's young, then it is probably trying to defend itself. This is usually the case. In fact, protecting it's young accounts for the vast majority of bear attacks.

If the animal has been stalking you for miles, you may be food. If the animal that is attacking you is a mountain lion, you may be food. If it runs into your tent and attacks you*, you may be food. All of these are rare, but documented.

*Note that some bears will come into your tent to lick the sweat off of your clothes or investigate smells. Unless they are aggressive, you are probably not food.

What to do:

If it is trying to protect itself, play dead. Keep your backpack on, lay down, and cover your neck with your hands. If it continually mauls you, then you may be food and may need to change strategy.

If it is trying to eat you, fight back with extreme violence and every weapon available. Strike the head, nose, and eyes. Everyone in the group must join in the fight.

In either case DO NOT RUN!

It can not be over-emphasized how extremely rare it is for a bear or mountain lion to attack a person, except for self defense.

Q: Can bears climb trees?
A: All black bears can climb well. Some grizzly bears can/will climb a short distance. A tree may provide safety if it is a grizzly and you can climb to a considerable height before it reaches you. Remember, grizzly bears are unbelievably fast. Climbing a tree is usually not a good idea. It is usually better to quietly leave the area. Do not run. Running will cause the bear to instinctively chase you.

Q: How often do bear or mountain lion attacks occur?
A: Nationwide, mountain lion and bear attacks are very rare. In our area, they are virtually unheard of.

There are mountain lions in our area but live very secretive lives and it is extremely rare to even see one.

Until recently, there were no bears in our area. Now there are a few black bears and sightings are limited. Our area is still NOT considered to be "bear country". There have been no reports of human attacks.

Q: How do I avoid contact with bears and mountain lions?
A: When your hike, talk or make other noises. If you prefer to hike without making a lot of noise, then you should at least make some noise before you walk around corners or through areas of limited visibility. This will alert the animals that you are coming so they can move on before you enter the area. Always bear-proof your food.

 

Avalanche
Q: How do I avoid avalanches?
A: Predicting avalanches involves a lot of information, such as recent weather, layering of the snow, direction the slope is facing, etc.. There are training classes available in areas where avalanches are more common. Below are some of the basics.

Avalanches occur in areas where the slope is about 40 degrees. Snow tends to sluff off and does not accumulate on slopes steeper than about 50 degrees. Snow tends to remain stable on slopes of 32 degrees or less. It is important to note that people usually over-estimate slope angles.

One of the best way to tell if the area is prone to avalanche is to look at the bottom of the slope. Is the snow smooth or does it look like there has been an avalanche there earlier? Is the slope devoid of trees and/or are there damaged trees at the bottom of the slope?

If you believe that the area may be prone to avalanche, use another route.

It is important to note that 95% of people who are caught in avalanches are caught by a slide that was triggered by themselves or a member of their party.

Q: How do I prepare for an avalanche?
A: Practice locating buried victims often. Practice before every trip. Avoid avalanche prone areas. If you must use a route that is prone to avalanche, use the following precautions.

1 Turn on your avalanche transceivers. If you don't have an avalanche transceiver, tie a bright colored cord to you and let it trail 30 or more feet behind you.

2 Zip up and button up your jacket. Put on your hood and pull the drawstring tight, even if you are hot. This will help prevent hypothermia if you are buried.

3 Unclip your belt and chest strap. Have the shoulder strap loose on your shoulder. Be prepared to throw off your pack if an avalanche occurs.

4 Cross the danger area one person at a time.

Q: What do I do if I get caught in an avalanche?
A: 1 Drop your pack and run to one side or the other. Do not run downhill.

2 Just before the avalanche hits you, turn and face it.

3 Swim uphill. Many survivors said that being caught in an avalanche as similar to being caught in a large wave of whitewater at the beach, but with even less control.

4 Just before you come to a rest, place your hands over your face and try to create and air pocket.

Q: What are the odds of surviving an avalanche?
A: 30% of people buried completely by avalanches are killed by trauma.

If you are not killed by trauma, suffocation and hypothermia are your biggest concerns.

You can sometimes swim through flowing snow, but when it comes to a rest, it packs itself as hard as a rock. The pressure of the snow packing itself will squeeze the air out of your lungs. You can NOT free yourself if you are completely buried.

If you are freed within 15 minutes, you have a 90% chance of surviving.

If you are freed within 30 minutes, your odds are down to 50%.

If you are buried more than 6 feet deep, your odds are almost 0%. It is unlikely that your friends can dig you out in time.

The only chance your buried friends have of surviving is for YOU to rescue them. Don't go for help unless you're sure they're dead, because they will be by the time you get back.

Q: How do I use an avalanche transceiver?
A: Modern transceivers have many new useful features. There is a lot to learn about using a transceiver by reading the manual that came with it. Below is an overview of how the search procedure works.

There are two phases to the search, the coarse and fine search.

Do these searches very very rapidly!

The Coarse Search.

There are two basic patterns for a coarse search, the zig-zag and fall line search.

Use a zig-zag pattern when:

You have no PLS (Point Last Seen) or surface clue. AND

There are not enough people to do parallel fall line searches that will cover the entire area.

Conduct a zig-zag search over the entire slide path until you get a signal, then stop.
Use a fall line search when:

You have a PLS. OR

There are enough people to do parallel fall line searches and can cover the entire area. OR

You have a surface clue (hat, glove, etc.).

Conduct a fall line search until you get a signal, then stop.
The Fine Search

The fine search starts as soon as someone gets the first signal. The fine search is a grid search.

Orient your unit shortly after a signal is picked up. Do this by rotating the unit horizontally to find the strongest signal. Then rotate it vertically to find the strongest signal. Only do 180 degree rotations since the orientation is the same for the opposite direction.

Crank down (select the lowest useful setting).

Start the Grid Search:

Walk forward until the signal begins to fade.

Stop. Crank down. Re-orient.

Turn left or right, it doesn't matter which. (You will soon find out if you made the wrong turn.)

Walk until the signal begins to fade. (Turn around and go the opposite direction if the signal immediately faded after your turn.)

Stop. Crank down. Re-orient.

Repeat until you found the point with the strongest signal.

Dig like mad.

Perform the grid search, then dig like mad.

Note: There are other advanced methods, such as the induction line method, that speed up the search but they are difficult to learn and confusing. Even with the advanced methods, you will always finish with a grid search since it is the only way to pinpoint the location. This FAQ does not cover advanced methods.