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High-Country Safety


Numerous factors must be considered to have a safe hiking experience.  Thunderstorms, lightning, a surprise snowstorm or dangerous wildlife are only some the hazards you could encounter while out on the trail. Having the proper gear, making sure that you're in good physical condition, paying close attention to your surroundings, and using good judgment are all essential for a safe and enjoyable outing.


The must-have list includes: water, extra water, rain gear, compass, extra food and a map. Never rely solely on GPS technology, especially with limited service and unreliable battery power. 

5.   High elevation hiking increases the chance of dehydration, severe sunburn,

1.   Check with The Custer County Sheriff's Office (719-783-2270) or the U.S. Forest Service Office (719-783-2079) for current trail conditions, and recent predator activity in the area.

2.   Always check the weather forecast before heading out.

3.   Alert a family member or a friend of your hiking itinerary and estimated time of return. Make sure you check in with this person upon your return. If you do not return within the expected time, have them contact the Custer County Sheriff's Office dispatch at 719-783-2270.

4.   Know First Aid and carry a first aid kit. In case of an emergency know how to contact the nearest medical care. 

Hiking safety tips:

5High elevation hiking increases the chance of dehydration, severe sunburn,and altitude sickness (headaches, nausea, dizziness). Wear and reapply sunscreen often.  Drink several quarts of water per day to ward off dehydration.  If you plan on drinking water from the backcountry, it must be treated for Giardia lamblia, a parasite that can cause intestinal infection. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.

6.   Lightning is always an issue during the summer months. Start your hike early in the day, and plan to get below tree line or to a shelter by early afternoon.

7.   Watch for signs of heat exhaustion. To help avoid this situation, stay well hydrated.

8. Always have a fire source: waterproof matches or other emergency firestarter.

11. Never approach wild animals.  Bears and cougars are present in Custer County.  Although seeing them is rare, hikers still need to take precautions - make noise, stand tall, and back away.

 Recommended Hiking Gear

(Strongly Suggested)


* Extra socks

* Base layer (polypropylene)

* Mid / Heavy-weight fleece or pile jacket

* Rain / wind shells (jacket and pants)

* Wool or fleece hat

* Water: full canteen(s), or hydration pack

* Extra food: high energy snacks

Trail Map and/or Guidebook

* Compass (with the knowledge of how to use it)

Emergency bivvy sac

* Waterproof matches / fire starter

* Pocket knife

* Flashlight or headlamp with new batteries

* Small mirror (in case you got lost)

* First aid kit (see below)

* Moleskin (for blisters)

* Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm)

* Wide-brimmed hat (to protect from sun)

* Napkins

* Money / ID 

Basic First Aid Kit

(Highly recommended)

Some examples of items for your First Aid kit are listed below.  Keep your first aid kit in a waterproof container.


* Bandages

* Adhesive tape

* Antiseptic wipes

* Tweezers

* Scissors

* Latex gloves

* Antibacterial soap / wipes

* Sunburn lotion

* Antibiotic cream

* Aspirin / ibuprofen

* Snake bite kit

* Personal information / contact person


CAUTION:  You must have proper climbing gear and know how to use it!  Do not not attempt to climb difficult and dangerous mountains without proper training.

Mountain climbing is a pursuit that should never be undertaken without a good understanding of the many different aspects involved, ranging from map reading and navigation skills to rope work and understanding mountain weather.

Part of mountain climbing safety is knowing the mountain. That means knowing the best mountain climbing routes to the top and making sure that those routes are within your abilities.  You can increase your safety by studying maps and talking to climbers who are familiar with the mountain.

1.  Let someone know the details of your mountain climbing safety plan just in case something goes wrong.  This mountain climbing safety plan should include your route, estimated time tables, and emergency safety plans.

2.  Check the weather report.  Knowing what the weather will be like on your trip is vital to your safety.  You can always postpone a summit attempt for another day, with more favorable weather conditions.

3. Thinner air at high altitudes can lead to extreme and rapid changes in temperatures. Pack layers of clothing that you can add or remove as needed including rain and windproof outerwear made of lightweight material. 

4.  Bring something to keep the sun out of your eyes, such as a brimmed hat and sunglasses.  Also, don’t forget the sunscreen. The sun’s rays tend to be more intense at higher altitudes, especially if reflecting off of snow.

5.  Make sure to carry plenty of food and water on any mountaineering trip. Food needs to be high in energy and lightweight.   It is essential on any mountaineering trip to carry emergency rations in case you are on the mountain longer than anticipated.

5.  Safety is key!  Accidents inevitably happen by pushing too hard too soon.  Accidents put you, rescue teams and other climbers at risk. Plan according to your ability and always to the ability of the weakest member in a group.

High altitude can cause Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), commonly known as altitude sickness. Its primary symptom is a severe headache, but other symptoms may include: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia.

There are several steps you can take to lower your risk of altitude-related illnesses:


Most altitude-related illnesses are caused by lack of oxygen.  It’s important to take your time to travel to high altitudes.  Stay hydrated, avoid drinking alcohol, stay warm, do not smoke, and eat regularly.


If you or a climbing partner has any symptoms of altitude-related illness, descend immediately. Try to descend by 3,000 feet or more. If descent isn’t immediately possible, take temporary measures to manage the illness. For example, the person should be placed in a pressurized (Gamow) bag, given oxygen, or given drugs such as dexamethasone.

It’s hard to predict exactly how your body will react to high altitudes because everyone is different. Your best defense against altitude sickness is not to climb too high too fast and to be prepared by practicing the tips above.  If you have any existing medical conditions, like heart problems, trouble breathing, or diabetes, you should talk to your doctor before traveling to high altitude. These conditions may lead to additional complications if you get altitude sickness.

6.  Most mountain climbing accidents happen on descent.  Creating a mountain climbing safety plan and making it to the summit in one piece is only half the challenge.  The other half, the more dangerous half, is getting back down.  Make sure you plan a safe descending route.

7.  Always carry an emergency shelter, they are small and lightweight but can be life savers, protecting you from the elements should the weather suddenly turn.

8.  Always take your phone with you sealed in a waterproof bag.  Be aware that network signal strength can be non-existent in some remote areas. For such expeditions radios are essential as they enable party members to communicate when out of sight of each other on the mountain, but also to radio for assistance if it is needed.

9.  Take some time to prepare for, and practice actions on different types of emergencies. High levels of training mean you will react without having to think, which is beneficial since decision-making abilities are severely impaired in stressful conditions.

Basic first aid training as this is useful knowledge to have (not only for mountaineering but for every day occurrences).  Always carry a personal first aid kit (mountain leaders will always carry a more comprehensive kit).

10.  If a mountaineering emergency occurs:

  • Don’t rush, remain calm. Otherwise a minor mishap could escalate into a major incident.

  • Quickly assess the casualty’s condition.

  • Determine if they can be treated and evacuated by the party or if external assistance is required.

  • Call for external assistance if it is needed using your phone. If you have no signal then someone needs to leave to get help.

  • Never leave a casualty unattended unless it is completely unavoidable i.e. if climbing as a pair. At least two fit and reliable members of the party should be sent. Write down the grid-reference and a description of the location as well as the casualty’s injuries to take to the rescue services. (A GPS receiver can prove invaluable in determining your exact location to give to rescue teams.)

  • Move the casualty to shelter and keep them warm, hydrated and reassured. However, NEVER move a casualty if you suspect any spinal injuries.

  • Never move far from your ascent route as this is where mountain rescue teams will focus their search. If you need to find shelter then leave a sign indicating your direction to the rescue team.

If problems occur, use your communication device to call 911 or phone the Custer County Sheriff's Dispatch at 719-276-5555 Ext 8.

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