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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

Safe hikes begin with proper equipment

By Landis Lum

With summer near, many more adults and children will be trying a hand at hiking or even backpacking. Whether it is an easy jaunt on the 'Aiea Loop Trail or a grueling four-day trek up Mauna Loa (which I did six years ago, so I know freezing rain, altitude sickness and even blizzards are all possible), I'd like to share with you some basic survival skills I learned at a Wilderness Medicine Conference in Colorado last summer. Some of these tips could save your life or your keiki's life!

• Bring a small signal-mirror and a whistle just in case you happen to get lost.

Remember that scene in "Titanic" where Kate Winslett had to blow a whistle to get rescued? A whistle can be heard much farther than the human voice; three sharp bursts blown periodically will make it much easier for rescue teams, other hikers — or parents — to determine your location.

A small mirror can be used to reflect sunlight to rescue teams or aircraft. Remember those people who got lost last year at Kahana Valley? They probably would have been found earlier if they had whistles and mirrors.

Tantalus is another place where, when I was growing up, I would hear about people getting lost. This brings up another rule: Never hike alone. Usually people who were never found were hiking alone, and possibly fell and hurt themselves.

• You should also bring a cellular phone from which you can call for help if necessary. This does not eliminate the need for whistles and mirrors. When I hiked the beautiful Kuaokalaa Loop Trail in the Wai'anae mountains, I discovered "dead spots" where cellulars did not work.

• Bring enough water. I got into trouble as an assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Kalihi Troop 39 last year when I had the boys bring only a liter of water each for the Lanipo trail at the top of Wilhelmina Rise. This trail ordinarily takes me five hours, and I had always gotten away with carrying a liter of water. However, the day we hiked had to have been the hottest, most humid day ever! We were sweating profusely, ran out of water, and the last of us got off the mountain nine hours later!

Drink at least 3 to 4 quarts of water a day for longer treks.

Oranges (but NOT salt tablets) and other fruits are also great to take.

• Don't drink stream water or water from other natural sources, even if they look clear and are flowing! You may catch giardia, leptospirosis, Ecoli and others, all of which can cause diarrhea (or even worse!).

If you want to use such water sources, you must purify the water first. I prefer water filters (sold at sporting goods stores), as water purification tablets may taste unpleasant (though you can mask this with Kool Aid or other flavorings). However, if you run out of water, it's better to drink even unpurified water, as dehydration can lead to weakness and hypothermia.

• You should bring a small flashlight, waterproof matches, a map and compass (some experts recommend two compasses, and be sure to learn how to use them!), sunscreen, bandages, lip balm, sunglasses, insect repellent, rain gear, hat and spare eyeglasses. Adequate clothing is essential (though its unfortunately beyond the scope of this column). Finally, before you leave, tell other people about your hike.

Getting into nature clears the mind and teaches your keiki of the joys of exercise and love of our 'aina, which is certainly healthier than playing video games, surfing the Internet or cruising the malls.

Dr. Landis Lum is a family practice physician with Kaiser Permanente, and an associate clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Hawai'i experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine, diet and exercise take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, 'Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170. This column is not intended to provide medical advice; you should consult your doctor.