Let’s face it, spending a night out in the woods is kind of … scary.
It’s dark out there. It’s lonely. Big creatures with sharp teeth and no regard for social norms lurk in the shadows.
Who hasn’t felt the hairs on the back of his or her neck stand up at the cold feeling that something out there is watching? But consider this: Statistically, a person is more likely to be killed by mouse droppings or mosquitoes in Colorado than by bears and mountain lions.
It’s not that there is nothing to be afraid of out there. It’s that we are often afraid of the wrong things.
We’ve busted out our own Out There ThreatDown (with apologies to the “Colbert Report”) so when you’re lying awake in your tent, you can be sure you’re scared of the right threat.
THREAT NO. 1: THE Y CHROMOSOME
This tiny tangle of DNA that separates the men from the women is the most dangerous thing in the backcountry. It makes the hairier gender do really dumb things, such as climb mountains in thunderstorms, ski avalanche-prone slopes, and say things like, “Get a picture of me trying to ride this mountain goat.” Statistically, having the Y chromosome makes men three times more likely than women to be injured in the outdoors, and eight times more likely to be killed, according to a study by the Colorado Department of Public Health. Just to round things out, guys are also five times more likely to be killed biking, seven times more likely to be killed kayaking and 17 times more likely to be killed by an avalanche. The Y chromosome may also be a factor in Threat No. 2.
Best defense: Listen to your lady friend.
THREAT NO. 2: DRIVING TO THE TRAILHEAD
In Colorado, about 540 people die every year in traffic crashes. Almost half of them happen in highwaylike driving, where no intersection or stoplight is involved — exactly the type of driving most people do just before they go hiking or camping or biking.
Best defense: Slow down, pay attention and, for Pete’s sake, no texting while driving!
THREAT NO. 3: CLUMSINESS
The leading killer of people in the outdoors in Colorado is falling down, usually at a high rate of speed (say, from a mountain bike) or from a high place (say, a mountain), perhaps because of unrealistic assessment of abilities (see Threat No. 1). These fatal falls account for about 30 percent of all outdoor recreational deaths in the state.
Best defense: Accept that you are mortal, know your limits and act accordingly.
THREAT NO. 4: TREES
These pulpy predators are misleading because they appear not to move. Yet somehow they manage to hit skiers with alarming regularity and disastrous results. Skier-tree collisions are the leading cause of death at ski areas, making up about 7 of the 13 skier deaths in Colorado every year, according to the Colorado health department.
Best defense: See No. 3.
THREAT NO. 5: LIGHTNING
Colorado is one of the top states for lightning-related deaths. We get an average of 16 lightning injuries and 3 deaths annually, according to the National Weather Service. Statistically, people are more than twice as likely to be struck dead on a weekend afternoon in July than at any other time. Men are more than eight times as likely to be killed by a strike (see Threat No. 1).
Best defense: Do not hike or camp above treeline, on ridges or in open areas after noon if there is even the potential of a thunderstorm.
THREAT NO. 6: MOSQUITOES
West Nile surfaced in Colorado in 2003. Since then, the disease, spread by mosquito bites, has killed 83 people in the state. Only one in five people bitten by an infected skeeter will develop symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And only one in 150 cases will be severe. But a severe case can mean stupor, convulsions, coma and death. So, you know, best to take precautions.
Best defense: Long sleeves and lots of bug spray.
THREAT NO. 7: MOUSE POOP
The seemingly harmless droppings of deer mice can carry hantavirus, a respiratory disease that is fatal in a third of all cases. Since 1993, it has killed 25 people in Colorado, according to the CDC. It mostly affects people in enclosed, droppings-rich buildings, but the CDC says anyone who comes into contact with mouse dropping in any setting can contract it.
Best defense: Look first before unrolling your sleeping bag. Do not hang out in areas that show signs of abundant deer mice, such as mouse droppings.
THREAT NO. 8: GUYS WEARING ORANGE
On average, hunters in Colorado accidentally kill 1.3 people a year and inadvertently wound an additional 12 with guns, arrows and other gear, according to the Division of Wildlife. Almost all incidents are hunter-on-hunter, and their kill rate is higher than that of mountain lions and black bears combined. Yikes.
Best defense: Know the hunting seasons and don’t dress like an elk — or a hunter, for that matter — during those times.
THREAT NO. 9: MARMOTS
OK, these chubby little alpine rodents have never killed any hikers, but in some areas they have been known to crawl into the wheel wells of cars parked at alpine trailheads and chew things. Sometimes it’s just the coolant hoses (the little buggers are said to like the sweet taste of antifreeze). But sometimes they chew the brake lines. Not such a good thing when heading down Pikes Peak.
Best defense: Always check for marmots — and working brakes — before driving off.
THREAT NO. 10: MOUNTAIN LIONS, BEARS, AX MURDERERS, TARANTULAS, FALLING INTO ABANDONED MINE SHAFTS, HILLBILLIES WITH BANJOS, ETC.
Statistically, people are more likely to die falling into abandoned mines than to be killed by a bear or mountain lion, or any creepy crawlies or creepy people. Most bear attacks involve bears looking for food and accidentally taking a bite out of a sleeping camper. According to the Division of Wildlife, 27 people have been injured by a bear in Colorado and one killed in the past 20 years. Keep food and cooking gear in a separate bag hung in a tree away from your camp. For lions, avoid hiking alone at dawn and dusk. Keep close watch on small children.
Best defense: Make yourself look as large as possible and slowly back away.