The Most Dangerous “Beast” in the Woods

If you’ve been a hiking a long time, you have heard advice from many non-hikers to watch out for the bears.  Where I live we are only talking about black bears which tend to be more afraid of you than you are of them.  Typically we only see the back of them as they try and get out of our vicinity or see evidence they’ve been here from their scat on a trail.  My understanding is that they are only really dangerous when you come up on them with their cubs and the advice is to try and back off from them or if you can’t, make yourself look big and yell and make lots of noise.  The second bit of advice is to watch out for strangers in the woods which is actually pretty good advice as we’ve had several fatal incidents in the woods but these appear to be random and fairly rare events. Most hikers here are happy to see each other and exchange trail news as they pass. At the very least they acknowledge you with a “hey” as they pass.

But being the sweep, the most dangerous beast in my opinion is the yellow jacket by which I’ve been attacked numerous times.  They tend to get agitated by the hikers in front and start their attack right about the time I start to pass over them.  Unfortunately they can sting you multiple times so the only way to escape them is to run which can have a downside of its own when the trail is rough and rocky and you are carrying a heavy pack. I was stung about 7 times in 2013, none so far this year (knock on wood), and had to get medical treatment on two occasions when the swelling failed to go down and the redness started to expand. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to spot a yellow jacket nest and you may walk right over them in the high grass or they may have started one right in the middle of the trail.

I’ve posted a few links below which I thought had pretty good advice about treating yellow jacket stings but when you are out in the woods it may be a little while before you can take advantage of any of it. So what do you do?  If you know you have a bad allergy to stings, you will want to carry an epi pen.  You should tell your hike leader in case they need to apply it for you.  Some people actually avoid the woods during the worst of their season. Probably the best advice is to always carry an antihistamine and a pain med in your personal first aid kit just in case. If you have a cold pack, you could apply it to the sting for 20 to 30 minutes. Not the easiest advice when you are out in the woods with 10 other people.  And if you are allergic and/or have a severe reaction, get out of the woods as quickly as possible and seek medical treatment.

Just so you know, I am still here and have survived all my stings and continue to hike as much as I possibly can. I consider it a minor inconvenience in exchange for having a great experience in the woods. But stings are not fun and they can be serious, so it is best to be prepared just in case.

Happy hiking!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor so this is not a substitute for getting the proper medical advice.



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