Monday Medical: Summer adventure safety |

Monday Medical: Summer adventure safety

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Moab, Utah, is a popular destination for early summer adventures.
Scott Franz

When you’re planning your outdoor adventures this summer, don’t forget to account for safety.

For Dr. Nathan Anderson, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, the principles are similar to those used in the emergency department.

“Our approach in the ED is always an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Anderson said. “These basic principles can help you avoid trouble and get out of trouble.”

Know where you’re going

Be ready to face the challenges posed by the environment you’ll be exploring.

“If you’re going for a bike ride out in the backcountry of Moab, (Utah,) you better know how to change a bike tire,” Anderson said. “And if you’re going to do the Zirkle Circle early in the season, you should prepare for some water crossings that are wet, fast and cold.”

Similarly, prepare for weather. To combat the desert’s sun and heat, bring a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen, all of which can help you avoid issues such as sunstroke and sunburn. And to deal with the cold, wet weather of higher elevations, bring raingear and insulating layers to stay warm and dry as temperatures dip and storms blow in.

And don’t forget your headlamps. “Realize that camping is a 24-hour activity, and the dark is part of that,” Anderson said. “Be prepared to handle the dark with lights and batteries.”

And keep basic safety gear on hand: extra water and food, matches and fire starter, a first-aid kit and emergency shelter.

Know what you need

Be prepared to meet your needs for food, water and shelter.

“For that Moab trip, you’re going to need a lot more water than you’d need for a 4-mile hike to Fish Creek Falls,” Anderson said. “Or if you’re doing two days of strenuous hiking, be prepared to feed your body.”

Don’t forget that critter encounters are common.

“From moose to mosquitoes to microbes, avoidance is the best policy,” Anderson said.

Always filter water to avoid parasites such as Giardia, which can cause diarrhea, nausea and fatigue. Wear bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes and ticks, which can pass along various diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and West Nile virus.

Know how to react to those larger animals. For moose, that means slowly walking away and avoiding the temptation to take a selfie.

Also, be ready to help others with you.

“Not only are you responsible for taking care of yourself and your needs, but you might be asked to do that for your companions,” Anderson said. “This is especially important for people who are hiking with kids. They’re strong aerobically, but they’re also very fragile and vulnerable.”

Anticipate trouble

Always leave an itinerary with a friend or coworker. “If you don’t show up, they’ll know where to look,” Anderson said. “Whether that’s at Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops or down in Denver watching a show.”

Have a fully charged cellphone and a backup source of power. And don’t go it alone. Bring a buddy, so you can help each other through any injuries or issues.

Never underestimate the expertise your particular trip entails. A two-hour tube float down the Yampa River is not the same as a five-day rafting trip through the Gates of Lodore.

“The longer or more remote or more technical your trip, the more preparation, more equipment and more knowledge it takes,” Anderson said. “If any one of those three facets is shortchanged, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.”

Don’t forget that time spent preparing and anticipating challenges pays off.

“There’s always a risk of a freak accident — it happens to the best Himalayan mountaineers,” Anderson said. “But you can reduce the likelihood of one happening by anticipating and preparing for issues, leaving a way out and being up to the task you’ve selected.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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