Danger lies in what you don't know

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Several folks wrote or called about last week's column, where I suggested the annual list of horrors awaiting anyone who steps outside during the summer is more alarmist than informative.

First, and most moving, a woman called to tell me she had lost a daughter to hantavirus years ago in New Mexico. She wanted to tell me there is nothing humorous about the fatal virus spread by deer mice. Of course I agree completely -- there's nothing funny about anything that can kill you or a loved one.

Then one of my bosses -- a brilliant journalist and clearly one of the most intelligent human beings in the universe (I do not believe that flattery works, but there's no harm in trying) -- pointed out that while I mentioned all of the deadly things you have a very slim chance of encountering in the out-of-doors, I did not mention some of the dangerous things you are more likely to meet. Nor did I write anything that might help you avoid these more common dangers.

So the rest of this space will be devoted to the most common danger you are likely to face in the outdoors this summer and how you can protect yourself. By far and away, ignorance is the biggest killer in any outdoor venue, from boating to mountain climbing.

Ignorance is also the easiest outdoor danger to avoid. Take some time to learn about the outdoor activity in which you intend to participate beforehand and practice the techniques you learn to avoid those dangers.

For example, if you're boating, take the time to learn how water can kill you -- especially the cold water of Puget Sound. Learn what can keep you alive in cold water and wear a life jacket, whether or not you can swim.

If you are hiking, don't leave the trail unless you are carrying a map and compass -- and know how to use them.

Always carry the Ten Essentials: in addition to map and compass, flashlight with extra bulbs and batteries, extra food, extra clothing, waterproof matches and fire-starter, first-aid kit, knife, sunglasses and sunscreen.

In the out-of-doors, lack of information is the real danger. Corpses -- some still not recovered -- are mute testimony to this fact: the German graduate student who didn't know he risked his life by hiking from Sol Duc Hot Springs over High Divide to the Hoh River in midwinter; the Californian who set off on a cross-country excursion from Hayden Pass to the Anderson Glacier without a map, compass or rope.

These are but two of the people who have died in the Olympics in the last decade because they didn't have simple information that could keep them alive. The frightening part is that no matter how many outdoorsfolk become informed, the victims will more than likely be ignorant.

(Seabury Blair is The Sun's outdoors editor.)

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