Backpacking WA

The beauty of backpacking is the wild solitude. But with it comes animals who call that same wild solitude home. As Craig Romano explains in his book, Backpacking Washington, Washington is home to bears, cougars, snakes, and tiny but hazardous ticks. Before you head out on a backpacking trip, make sure you know what to do in case you encounter potentially dangerous wildlife.

Bear tips: Bears can be a serious wilderness threat. Understand how to act before you leave, so you'll know how to be safe to prevent a wildlife sighting from turning dangerous. First, make sure you have a 12oz can of bear mace/spray in your pack. Tip: Bear spray or bear mace is typically more potent, and therefore more affective on a bear than human grade pepper spray. Next, evaluate your body language: stay calm, use a low voice, make yourself big. Don't stare. And if the bear attacks, play dead to neutralize yourself as a threat to the animal. Also, use that pepper spray.

Cougar tips: Dealing safely with cougars requires the opposite attitude. Be aggressive and large, maintain eye contact, throw things, and shout. Being aggressive is the only way to make the cougar back off. In general, to minimize wildlife encounters and stay safe, hike in groups and talk or sing loudly as you walk so animals hear you approaching and aren't surprised when you hike down the trail. Wildlife in general is more afraid of you than you are of them, if they hear you coming their instincts will tell them to flee and leave you alone.

Rattlesnake tips: If you are hiking in Eastern Washington, you might see some rattlesnakes along the trail. They are actually just as afraid of you as you are of them -- so walk away slowly. If you get bitten, stay calm, wash the wound, immobilize the limb, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Tick tips: You will be in tick territory if you hike east of the Cascades. Most people fear bigger animals, but encounters with ticks can be more dangerous since ticks carry disease. Staying safe in tick territory means being preventative: during tick season in the spring, wear long sleeves and long pants. Tuck the hem of your pants into your socks. If you do happen to get a tick, use tweezers to gently squeeze the head until it lets go.

In general, animal and wildlife safety while backpacking is all about being smart and knowing what to do if an encounter occurs. Treat wildlife with respect and keep your distance on the trail. The wilderness -- and your backpacking trail -- is, after all, their home.


—Adapted from Backpacking Washington: Overnight and Multiday Routes by Craig Romano, $18.95, paperback.

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