Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Safety issues in the backcountry – medical situations, bears, wildlife, river crossings, food, groups, etc.

Alaska Winter Driving and Travel Information for Photographers

Sunday, January 6th, 2013
Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Winter travel, a snow-laden pickup truck on the McCarthy Road, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks

This year (2013) seems to definitely be the year that photographers want to head north to photograph the northern lights here in Alaska; the number of websites that have suddenly added an “Alaska Northern Lights Photo Tour” to their schedule seems to have tripled in about 6 months.

That, and considering the number of photographers heading up here on their own, or with friends, to photograph the Aurora borealis this winter/spring means we’ll very likely see dozens, if not hundreds, of really, really amazing northern lights photographs from this coming season. I know I’m sure looking forward to seeing all the great images.

Given this influx of folks from “down south”, I thought a good subject to write about, one that I hope many people will find useful, might be winter driving and winter travel in Alaska. Coming, as I did when I moved here, from a background of very little real “winter conditions”, I had a lot to learn when I arrived, and some of that might be helpful for others headed this way. Not just about the physical driving on snow and ice. What to bring with me. What hazards I’m likely to encounter. And on and on. (more…)

Brown bear photo

Sunday, January 15th, 2012
A male brown bear, Ursus arctos, approaches up river, fishing for spawning sockeye salmon, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A male brown bear, Ursus arctos, approaches up river, fishing for spawning sockeye salmon, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

I thought I’d post another image from our Katmai brown bear photo tour last fall. I’ve shot this bear for so many years now; it’s awesome to go back and revisit these bears year to year, particularly the bears that are so great to photograph as this one.

When I first started photographing this bear, he was a young subadult, just out on his own. He’s nearly doubled in size over the last few years, and now is a good size bear, though still has a number of pounds to gain before he reaches his full size.

One thing that becomes so readily apparent when photographing bears is how truly individual they are. They can be as different from one to another as we are. Some bears will walk right on by, fishing and wandering the river, with little more than a sideways glance at us, while others wont’ come close at all, and seem to always keep an eye on people around the area.

This means a lot when it comes to things like how to act in bear country; it means the generalized ‘protocols’ that we read about and hear are, while valuable, not set in stone. It’s more important to pay attention to the bear, and to closely watch the bear’s signals. than to think about some line in a book at that said “In situation A, you should do B”; hard and fast rules rarely hold true, but never more so, perhaps, than when dealing with 1000lb+ predators. (more…)

Many Rivers to Cross

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

One of the more challenging aspects of an Alaskan backcountry trek is river crossings. With the exception of the occasional Kenai Peninsula hike, all of these treks are off-trail, wilderness backpacking trips, and so there’s no easy way to get across the streams, creeks and rivers that meander through the mountains. A few tips that can be useful to heed:

1) For smaller streams, I prefer to cross one person at a time. If by chance someone in the group does stumble, it means we have one wet person to deal with. Everyone else in the group is safe and secure on shore. Things unravel quickly in the backcountry, and that happens most often when something small goes wrong. One person stumbles, takes a dip, someone else reaches to grab them, they go down, knock their partner off balance, and all of a sudden bedlam results. That’s how people get hurt. It can also mean everyone gets wet gear. A much simpler problem to deal with is getting one person out of a creek, drying them off, and loaning them some warm, dry gear that another person in the group has in their pack. One person falling is a hassle – a group falling can be a disaster.

2) For anything over knee-high, unbuckle your hip belt and sternum strap on the backpack. (more…)

First Aid in the backcountry

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

A wilderness First Responder course simulation has this rescuer stabilizing a patient

Hey Folks,

With the summer season just around the corner, a few tips on some basic First Aid might be helpful. In this simulation, you can see my friend and Wilderness First Responder, Lisa, stabilizing the patient’s (Jason) neck. Stabilizing a patients spine is super-important in critical care for all patients who have suffered major trauma, or where the mechanism of injury is unknown. In other words, when the rescuer doesn’t know what happened, and why the patient is suffering. The best position for a patient whose may have a spine injury is flat on their back, with a rescuer holding their head in what’s called ‘anatomical position’ – basically, as straight as possible. Moving the head, or allowing the spine to flop around, can easily cause the spinal cord to be ruptured, or severed, causing permanent disabilities to the patient. (more…)

Bear Spray Effectiveness

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Grizzly bear cub photo, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

A lot of people ask about bears and bear spray and guns and what we do for safety. We don’t carry guns on our trips, and nor would I be comfortable with someone on the trip carrying a firearms, unless there were some very extenuating circumstances. I do carry bear spray, and we usually take 2 or 3 cans per trip, depending on the size of the group.

A recent Canadian study showed bear spray to be quite a bit more effective than firearms might be. The study looked at data from the last 20 years, and concluded bear spray is generally a safer option than firearms. “Despite persistent doubts among hikers and campers venturing into bear country, you’re better off with an eight-ounce can of bear spray than a gun, according to an analysis of 20 years of data.

Canadian and U.S. researchers announced Wednesday that they found the spray stopped aggressive bear behaviour in 92 per cent of the cases, whether that behaviour was an attack or merely rummaging for food. Guns were effective about 67 per cent of the time.”

The news report in the Canadian Paper is here. From the actual report itself, ” Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. “ The study looked at incidents involving brown or grizzly bears, black bears and even 2 polar bear incidents. What’s also important is that in each incident where the person/s using bear spray suffered some injury, those injuries were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization).

Here’s an abstract from the actual report:

“We present a comprehensive look at a sample of bear spray incidents that occurred in Alaska, USA, from 1985 to 2006. We analyzed 83 bear spray incidents involving brown bears (Ursus arctos; 61 cases, 74%), black bears (Ursus americanus; 20 cases, 24%), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus; 2 cases, 2%). Of the 72 cases where persons sprayed bears to defend themselves, 50 (69%) involved brown bears, 20 (28%) black bears, and 2 (3%) polar bears. Red pepper spray stopped bears’ undesirable behavior 92% of the time when used on brown bears, 90% for black bears, and 100% for polar bears. Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters. All bear-inflicted injuries (n = 3) associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required). In 7% (5 of 71) of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached the bear in all cases. In 14% (10 of 71) of bear spray incidents, users reported the spray having had negative side effects upon themselves, ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71). Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country.”

You report can be purchased if you subscribe to the Journal of Wildlife Management, published by the Wildlife Society.

It’s illegal to fly in the US, in most places, with bear spray, so if you are coming to Alaska, realize you won’t be allowed to bring bear spray with you, nor will you be allowed to return to the Lower 48 with it after your stay here. That’s the primary reason why we provide the spray for each trip. If you intend to do some other hikes after or before your trip with us, I definitely recommend you grab a can of bear spray in Anchorage, from either AMH or REI. Some flights in Alaska the airline will let you transport bear spray, as long as you hand it over at the counter at checkin . They seal it in a Ziplock bag, and stow it safely in the rear of the plane – You’ll be responsible for getting it back at the end of your flight though, so don’t forget about it and wander off to get your luggage – usually you pick it up as you get off the plane. Smaller planes, like bush planes and float planes, tend to either duct tape it onto the wing or stow it in the floats of the plane – the danger, of course, being if the can of bear spray does explode whilst you’re flying, you don’t want that stuff going all through the plane, particularly the cockpit. 🙂 Nor will your pilot. So make sure you remember before getting on or off a bush plane to hand over your bear spray, and let the pilot put it outside the plane.

Bear spray is extremely powerful stuff, so treat it with caution. Make sure you understand how it works, how the can works, and follow basic safety procedures that you might for any dangerous weapon. Read the label warnings and directions before you venture out hiking, and then keep your bear spray handy, but safe, whilst you’re hiking. Leaving the can in the bottom of your backpack is NOT going to be of much use to you if a bear pops out of the woods and gets a little feisty. I carry mine in my pants pocket, or in a water bottle pocket on the outside of my backpack, where I’ll usually tie it on, so I don’t lose it if (when) it falls out).

Thanks folks – if you have any questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

Travel safely.

Cheers

Carl

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Owner and guide Carl Donohue.

 

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