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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fear of Camping

I've noticed that many folks have unfounded fears about camping in Kodiak's backcountry. When I talk to them about our remote camps their biggest fears seem to be bears, bad drinking water, and the lavatory. As I see it, all of these fears are really minor annoyances at best. Today I plan on telling you what you should really fear in the backcountry.

But first a bit about bears, toilets and drinking water. It's highly unlikely that any of those three will kill you. I see bears as an annoyance that can get into your food or chew up gear - not as a serious threat to life and limb. Only 2 people have ever been killed by a bear on Kodiak, and both people shot the bear first. More people have been murdered by their camping partners than killed by bears. That's right - you have more to fear from the amiable camping companion sitting next to you than from the irascible bear lurking in the bushes outside camp. Realistically, if you are bear aware and give bears their space you will have no problems with bears.

As regards clean drinking water, giardia is way over-hyped. I gather 1 in 8 people have it in their bodies at all times, and that the biggest vector is day care facilities and not drinking water. Clean hands does more for the prevention of giardia than any amount of water filtering. In fact most water in the backcountry is potable without filtering. That said, we do treat our water in camp with bleach and vitamin C (we add the Vitamin C 12 hours after the bleach to remove the chlorine taste). In our last camp in the swamps on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula even I would not drink the river water and we had to work to get good drinking water to camp (see bottom photo of Mark carrying water from a lake about 1/2 mile away from camp).

Now about the toilet .. ... - actually I'll leave that one alone. Just be scared, be very afraid. All your fears are justified on this one. But let it be said that toilet paper is a very recent invention. I'll bet Ben Franklin stocked his outhouse with moss. The biggest toilet related fear I have is that people do not wash their hands afterwards. That's when you catch giarda or some other nasty e coli related bug.

Having dispensed with the annoyances I'll list what should be real fears when camping in the backcountry. As I see it, the greatest threats when afield are: 1) falls, 2) really bad cuts (from the camp machete etc), 3) drowning, 4) allergic reactions and poisons, 5) extremely poor weather and hypothermia, 6) medical emergencies (ie heart attacks, strokes, seizures), 7) plane crashes, and lastly, 8) if you have firearms in camp, gunshot wounds. Now those are all serious threats that everyone should be aware of and respect. Patrick


aubreylmorrison said...

Yay for moss! In reference to bears and guns... last weekend I was running near Campbell Airstrip on a really popular trail and was shocked to see a man mountain biking with a gun strapped to his chest. Seeing that while out in the woods is 1000x scarier than seeing a bear. I'm assuming his gun was for bear "protection" but nonetheless it made me want to get out of there fast!

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

Yes yeah moss - and I gather toilet paper was not invented until 1877. Moss is way better than the communal bucket of salt water and sponge that I read was another method prior to 1877. Patrick