Essential tips for a safe hike

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Essential tips for a safe hike

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Whether you're planning a long excursion or just a Sunday walk, it doesn't matter! Remember that hiking is not just a walk: mountains can be dangerous! So approach them with the right caution and plan your excursions with care. Here you will find some tips for safe walks.

Are you ready for an hike?

Choose the path more suitable for you, respect your limits and recharge your batteries

Anyone can walk outdoors, but choosing a route that suits your current physical condition is the first step for a safe excursion. So be aware of your physical limits! You are not going to win any competition by overcoming them! On the contrary, it will only expose you to a greater risk of injury. Being physically in good shape is obviously a key factor – hiking trails can sometimes be slippery or excessively steep. Therefore, sure-footedness and the absence of dizziness are required. Wear good comfortable shoes* with the right grip on the ground and don’t forget trekking sticks*, which can help you maintain good stability even on the roughest terrain. Furthermore, before a long hike, try to rest well and have a healthy and rich breakfast in order to keep a good charge of energy, stay alert and with quick reflexes.

What to consider before any excursion

Be cautious, check the operational status of the routes before starting your excursion, keep an eye on the weather and the clock

When planning an itinerary, it is essential to gather as much information as possible on the place of departure and arrival. Some places are accessible only by ski lifts or public transportation which obviously have operating hours to respect. If you are planning a long excursion, remember to consider the presence, along the route, of any deviations or shortcuts, a fundamental resource in case you are late on the schedule, a sudden change in the weather occurs or physical tiredness does allow you to continue your tour safely. The difference in height is another aspect to be carefully evaluated. A climb, especially if it is steep, takes longer and will force you to take more breaks. A descent, on the other hand, requires strong knees and caution. Remember that all trails can undergo changes, interruptions or deviations. You are in the middle of nature! Furthermore, in early summer or early autumn, you may often find traces of snow at certain altitudes. So please search in advance for information about the real current conditions of the chosen routes. You can do this by consulting the official information portals (here, in Switzerland), the numerous webcams available online or, if you are not digital at all, by contacting the managers of the huts or ski lifts. All the routes that you will find here or elsewhere on the web provide an indication of the travel times. These are obviously average and approximate values, which may vary due to your physical shape, the breaks you will take along the way or any deviations, planned or not. The suggestion, therefore, especially if you are a beginner, is to always add 25% more time than the indicated duration. With time and experience you will learn to better evaluate and quantify the duration of the paths. If you are planning to have lunch or an overnight stay along the way, find out about the options available in advance and make a note of their exact location. Also remember that beds must be booked in advanceThe weather in the mountains can change very quickly and unexpectedly. For this reason, it is essential to carefully check the weather situation along the route before starting walking and its evolution even when the sun is shining. There are many reputable sites and apps. Finally, don’t forget to inform someone close to you about the excursion and the route you intend to take. Should you find yourself in trouble or need help, someone will know where to look for you.

Suckler cows and livestock guardian dogs

Respect the animals and their habitat for a peaceful coexistence

Once, as a joke, someone told us that there are more cows in Switzerland than people. Obviously this is not the case, but what is true is that many hiking trails pass through pastures which, especially in summer, are the kingdom of animals. When crossing a pasture, therefore, it is absolutely necessary to pay attention and observe some fundamental rules so that the meetings with livestock take place in a safe and peaceful way.
Suckler cows. Cows are generally curious about humans and not dangerous but sometimes they can interpret the actions of humans as a danger from which to defend themselves. When you enter a pasture, therefore, pay attention to the signs, close the fence behind you, stay on the marked path and do not scare the animals. If the path is occupied by cows, keep calm and try to safely go around the herd and avoid getting in the way. Pay particular attention to the presence of suckler cows in the herd. Suckler cows have the instinct to defend their young and an encounter with them can be very dangerous, especially for dogs which, in the eyes of a cow, are just dangerous descendants of  wolves. So keep your dog on a leash, under close supervision and preferably hidden from the herd. Remember: if a cow raises and lowers its head, scratches the ground, snorts or roars it probably feels threatened. In this case, proceed slowly, do not turn your back on the animals and leave the pasture as soon as possible.

Shepherd dogs. In order to defend themselves from wolves, bears and lynxes, many pastures are protected by large dogs that instinctively observes strangers in the surrounding area, evaluating the danger that they can bring. Dogs’ primary goal is of course to keep them away from the herd and not to attack hikers. But in order for any meetings to take place in a peaceful way, it is necessary to have respect for their work and to act in a respectful way of the pasture and the flock. When you enter a protected pasture, therefore, pay attention to the signs, close the fence behind you, stay on the marked path, stay calm and do not chase or scare the animals. If a sheepdog barks or runs in your direction, do not lose your temper, do not run away and do not provoke the animal with sticks or chopsticks. On the contrary, give him time to understand that you are not a danger to his flock. When it has calmed down, continue along the path trying to stay at the right distance from the flock. If, on the other hand, the dog maintains a threatening attitude even after some time, avoid eye contact without turning your back on him and retrace your steps. If your route involves crossing pastures protected by shepherd dogs, taking a pet dog with you is strongly discouraged. As a close relative of the wolf, its presence triggers a more markedly defensive behavior in a protection dog. If you still want to take your pet dog with you, keep him on a leash and try to get around the flock.

Top ten rules for a safe hike

1

Base each hike on your fitness level. If you are in a group, take into account the level of each team member with particular attention to the elderly and children.

2

Plan your hikes carefully: find out about distance, elevation gain, difficulty level, trail conditions and possible dangers. Don’t lose sight of the weather forecast. Be sure that all members of the group know the emergency numbers of the local mountain rescue.

3

Carry a backpack that is not too heavy. Dress appropriately and be ready for any changes in the weather. Don’t forget a good first aid kit and a power bank to recharge your mobile phone in an emergency.

4

Wear good hiking shoes that protect your feet and ankles. Make sure they have a good grip on the ground and are waterproof and well fastened.

5

Move confidently and do not abandon the marked path. If you decide to deviate from the intended route, be sure to do so by following an official and well-maintained trail.

6

Take regular breaks to enjoy the views, take photos, chat with friends or have a snack. Drink frequently to replenish the minerals and fluids lost along the way.

7

If you see a storm approaching, go back immediately or look for a safe hut. In case you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm, stay away from the isolated trees and don’t stay on the ridge, rather go back to the valley.

8

In an emergency, stay calm and contact emergency services. If there are injured people, do not leave them alone to look for help, rather try to get them out of the danger zone or wait for help to arrive.

9

Before leaving, inform an acquaintance or the hotel staff about your excursion plans and tell them your destination, even if it is just indicative, and how long you plan to stay out. In this way, in case of an emergency, someone will know when and where to look for you.

10

During your excursions, respect the environment. Take away your garbage with you and if necessary collect the garbage of those who have left it behind. Protect the flora and fauna by avoiding making noises and by staying on the marked trails.

In case of thunderstorms

The weather changes quickly, don't get caught unprepared

Although the excursion has been prepared with the right foresight, the weather in the mountains changes very quickly and sometimes unpredictably. During an excursion it can therefore happen to find yourself in the middle of a storm. In this case, the greatest danger is obviously represented by lightning strikes, by their direct impact but also by their propagation on the ground. In the event of a storm, it is therefore essential to avoid places at risk, such as ridges, rounded peaks, isolated trees, electricity pylons and cableways, waterways and steel cables. So look for a safe place such as shelters with closed doors and windows or cars. On the contrary, avoid open tents and sheds. Good protection from the direct impact of lightning can also be found inside large caves or an isosceles triangle at the foot of a rocky part. However, keep at least two meters away from all the walls and the vault of the cave to avoid the transmission of the electrical discharge by land. Do not stay upright, rather crouch on a dry backpack and keep your knees to your chest. Avoid ground contact points or make sure any contact points are well insulated. Finally, abandon any metal objects such as hiking sticks, ice axes, umbrellas many meters away, which, as energy conductors, could attract lightning towards you.

Bears and wolves

No, taking a selfie with a bear is definitely not a good idea!

Large predators are rare in Switzerland and are generally not a cause for concern. Bears and wolves are shy animals that stay away from direct contact with humans. Sometimes, however, it can happen to come across one of them during an excursion. Here are some rules of conduct.

Bears. In Switzerland the bear is not a very common animal. Normally they migrate from the nearby Italian region of Trentino Alto Adige. Therefore, they do not in themselves constitute a risk. However, meeting them can be dangerous if the bear is in the company of its cubs, if it is injured or if it meets a pet dog. For this reason, in case you encounter a bear on your path, keep calm and draw attention to yourself by speaking with a natural voice. Let the bear notice your presence. If necessary, back away slowly without frightening or threatening him with objects or sticks. Finally, when the bear has gone away, resume your journey but do not chase it! If, despite all the precautions, the bear should attack you, lie down on the ground on your stomach, taking care to protect the back of your neck with your hands or with a backpack. Bears do not like to attack humans first and often feign an attack for the sole purpose of scaring. Then wait a bit and when the bear has moved away at least 100 meters, get up and walk away slowly.

Wolves. Wolves, like bears, are shy animals and prefer to avoid contact with humans. Strongly developed hearing and smell allow them to feel our presence at great distances and not be found along our path. In general, therefore, wolves do not pose a danger to humans as much as they are to flocks and domestic animals. So, if you encounter a wolf on your hike, keep calm and stay still. As soon as the wolf notices your presence, it will run away. If necessary, back off slowly. Never go near a wolf or chase it if you don’t want it to perceive you as a danger. Finally, never feed a wolf!

In case of emergency

What if something goes wrong? Don't panic and call for help.

No matter how well planned an excursion is, it can always happen that you find yourself in an emergency situation, more or less serious. In this case, keep calm and give first aid if necessary. Contact the emergency numbers and start recovery operations, but never leave any injured or people in distress alone, not even to go for help. In Switzerland, the emergency numbers are:112 international emergency number;
1414 REGA mountain rescue.

As a general emergency number, 112 can be contacted even if your SIM or phone is locked or password protected. In case you hike frequently in areas without a good mobile connection, you may want to download the “Uepaa!” app from Apple Store o Google Play Store: it allows you to call for help wherever you are and even without any connection!

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