Safety first when exploring the outdoors


It is winter adventure time in the Green Mountain National Forest. I like to go on skis. Some people prefer snowmobiles.

Here are a few things about the forest right now.

I have noticed there is some thin ice and open water in places. Think for yourself about whether it's safe to go on top of a body of water. Do not assume it's safe just because it's winter and it's cold out.

There are still many places where cell phones do not get service, and places where GPSs do not get a continuous signal. Many people using a GPS as their only navigation instrument, have gotten lost. I carry a compass, and usually also a map of the area. I even carry a compass in places I know well -- it helps if fog or a snowstorm makes visibility poor. I never rely on following my tracks back -- wind can blow them in, or other skiers can make other tracks and then I might not know which are mine. A good replacement for a cell phone, as an emergency signaling device in the backcountry is a Spot device. Do not use an Epirb -- those frustrate rescue organizations and the Coast Guard, and the signals bounce off everything and don't help anyone find you. Those are meant for the open ocean. Telling someone where you are going and when you expect to return, helps a huge amount with the same issue. If you do not come back when expected, people will know where to look.

Hydration is a challenge in winter because water bottles can freeze. It's important though, because the body's circulatory system is like a car radiator -- it works best for temperature regulation when it is full. That is, staying hydrated helps keep you warm. I like to carry an insulated backpack full of hot tap water, and coil the drinking hose inside the backpack. Some people carry a water bottle under their jacket. Some people bring a thermos.

I assume you know to dress in non-cotton materials, and bring a light of some kind, and how to build a snow cave, and what a space blanket is. Here's some wilderness first aid information from a friend of mine who is an orthopedic surgeon. One of the best pieces of first aid equipment in the backcountry is duct tape. You can do a lot of things with it -- use it on a dressing as first aid tape, use it along with a branch to make a splint, put it on your nose to protect it from frostbite, and even fix your gear. Also, with most injuries, even most fractures, you can get out of the woods. You don't really have to stay still, with most fractures, like you might have been told in Basic First Aid. Most of the time, you will not do too much harm by getting out, and you may save your life. Splint it first if possible. Better yet, play carefully, and then you will not need any first aid. It's always safer to travel with others.

The forest is spectacular, and I often see awe-inspiring scenery and interesting creatures, some of which are not well known to be living here. I will leave that one a mystery. if you go exploring out there, you may find out what I am talking about.

Heidi Henkel is a math tutor, dance teacher, fitness trainer and massage therapist who lives in Putney.


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