Be Prepared for Idaho

Travel Tips — By njensen on July 20, 2011 at 6:39 am
Travelers to Idaho often encounter terrain, climate, and altitude they’re not prepared for. The best way to prepare for emergencies is to prevent them. Here are some common sense, but often forgotten, tips to remember while traveling in wild and rural Idaho.

  1. Wild animals are wild. Do not approach them, attempt to feed them, or throw things at them. Before you camp, boat, hike, or pack into any area, make sure you know what animals to expect and how to deal with encounters, especially with bears, mountain lions, wolves, and other dangerous wildlife.
  2. Never travel into backcountry by yourself. A group of three or more is best.
  3. Make sure other people know where you are going. If you get lost, at least rescuers will know where to start searching.
  4. Learn first aid and carry a first aid kit. Anticipate that someone might sprain an ankle, scrape an arm, get stung or bitten by an insect, or befall some other minor injury.
  5. Do not attempt activities for you which you are not adequately conditioned. In other words, don’t try backpacking 50 miles if you’ve never backpacked before. Don’t attempt a three-day raft trip if you have never even been on a river before. Start small, use guides, and be safe.
  6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Two major problems travelers face in Idaho are altitude sickness and heat exhaustion. Both of these conditions are serious, but easily treated, and even more easily prevented.

Altitude Sickness

Even when you’re not in the high mountain areas of Idaho, chances are the altitude is higher than where you came from. Our highest mountains soar above 12,000 feet, and even resort towns like McCall and Sun Valley sit at elevations between 5,000 to 6,000 feet. That’s the same as Denver, the Mile High City.

Fortunately, it is easy to prevent altitude sickness. For starters, take time to acclimate yourself by increasing altitude slowly. If you are accustomed to low elevations, spend a day in Boise, then go to McCall, and that way if you’re going higher, you’ll be better acclimated. Drink a lot of water — more than you think you will need. It really does help.

Common symptoms of altitude sickness are headache, fatigue, or nausea. If you experience these symptoms, do not put on a brave face and push onward. Symptoms can progress quickly into dangerous conditions like fluid in the lungs, which may lead to respiratory distress or failure. If you or a fellow traveler begin to feel confused or disoriented, you might be experiencing fluid in the brain, which can be very dangerous. In that situation, descend as quickly as you safely can and get to a doctor.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is common when people participate in outdoor activities, especially strenuous ones they might not be prepared for. The best prevention for heat exhaustion is to stay well hydrated. Symptoms include severe sweating, hot skin, weakness, headache, nausea, and possibly fever.

The best treatment for heat exhaustion is to get out of the sun to a shady, cool spot, put a cool cloth on the person’s head, and drink lots of cold water. Heat exhaustion in its extreme form becomes heat stroke, a life-threatening condition. If you stop sweating, you most likely have heat stroke. Take immediate action and get medical help.

You might have noticed that the symptoms of and treatments for these two conditions are very similar. And their prevention is also the same: stay hydrated, don’t overdo it, take plenty of breaks in your activity, and be prepared.

Most people never have emergencies in the Idaho outdoors, so enjoy, but be safe.