Anyone who lives in Alaska should understand the potential risks from wilderness injuries. Although Alaska has towns and cities, traveling often involves crossing wilderness areas. Campers, hikers, and hunters also face the potential of injury in the backcountry. Here are some of the most common wilderness injuries and some prevention strategies, courtesy of the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska.
Injuries from falls can run the gamut – a sprained wrist, a broken tibia, a compound fracture (bone sticking out) or a serious head injury. Although some of these are avoidable, injuries are more likely in certain situations. Rough, unstable ground increases the risk of an injury – slow down, pay close attention to the trail and take plenty of time to secure your footing. When you are out of condition, it increases the risk of an injury, especially if you are tired as well. Don’t hike until you’re exhausted; allow plenty of time, take frequent breaks and stop early if necessary.
Blisters, cuts, bruises and burns are among the most common skin injuries. Again, these are often avoidable. Well-fitting shoes with good socks and skin protection like moleskin adhesives over vulnerable points can help reduce the risk of blisters. Take extra care when using knives, saws or axes and always keep your tools sharp. A sharp tool requires less effort to use, which means it’s easier to control and less likely to slip. Pay close attention when using sharp tools. Open wounds carry a risk of infection; clean them well and cover with a sterile bandage.
Frostbite, sunburn (yes, even in Alaska), altitude sickness and dehydration can make you miserable and even be life-threatening. Frostbite is always a risk in winter, but the temperature can also drop rapidly in spring and fall; make sure you have adequate warm clothing. Altitude sickness is the bane of climbers; Mt McKinley is certainly high enough to cause a problem, but other, smaller peaks can also pose a risk. Ascending slowly, eating properly and drinking plenty of water can help stave off both altitude sickness and dehydration.
A Word About Treatment
Injuries in the backcountry present different concerns than a similar injury suffered in a town. First, medical help may be a long way away in terms of both distance and time. Second, while modern technology has given us tools like cell phones, they don’t always work in wilderness areas. Third, the injured person may need to travel on foot or horseback or be carried in order to get to help. Anyone who plans to travel in the backcountry should prepare carefully, get in good physical shape, know the basics of first aid and take a medical kit.
Wilderness travel is exciting and fun; you will be treated to sights and experiences you can hardly imagine. Don’t let injuries spoil your trip if you can avoid them. If you do experience a musculoskeletal injury, we’re here to help.