HIKING

“Dangers” and cautions

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

HIking Apennine

With a storm coming, better to find a shelter, even if we are close to home. Croara, Bologna.

Weather conditions

This is a critical point, that you find developed in all the well written hiking guidebooks.
Weather. Hiking must be a pleasure, and an occasion to see and enjoy what is around: with bad weather, chances are low, so I try to avoid it.
I anyway have in my backpack something exceeding what is strictly necessary. Let’s say that, should bad weather suddenly come, making me stuck somewhere, I should have good chance of getting through. But, until now, I never even approached such a situation, and I hope I never will.
In any case, should something wrong happen with the weather, and you can find a shelter, stay there until it is over. If you just by-passed a potential shelter, or even since longer, but the way back is safer, go back and stay there. In case you really cannot see your way, because of fog or dark, stop in the better conditions you may find. In these cases a GPS may help you to find your way back, but only if the trail conditions allow you to walk safely.

Cold and heat. Do not underestimate temperatures, and know your reactions.
Even if you are a snow crazy, during winter it may be cold. Sometimes, few minutes are enough and symptoms of pre-freezing can start from your extremities. learn how to recognise them immediately: they start as a strong pain, especially at the tips of your fingers. You just act immediately and the only way is to bring the interested part to warm conditions.
The heat shock could come even more unexpected. It starts slowly, and you may even interpret it as something else, like fatigue, or a not better identified sense of confusion. But, also in this case, you must recognise it immediately. In case you feel  confused, lack of energy in a very hot day, do not have doubts and act immediately. If not, just after little time you could feel your temperature raising. You must immediately cool down, for sure putting you in the shade and not moving, but that could be not enough. At least, ventilate yourself; if you have the possibility, moisten yourself, starting from your head, with the liquids you have, and ventilate. Should this not work, call immediately for rescue.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

HIking Apennine

This image may look evocative, but these conditions are to be avoided, as much as possible. Mount Sagro, Apuanian Alps.

HIking Apennine

Intense cold can generate beauty, but also big problems.Alpe di Serra, FC.

HIking Apennine

A long ridge in full sun, still air and hot temperature: a big risk of heat shock. If necessary, give up. Le Porraie.

Trail conditions

You may experience different situations along trails.
Exposure. From an objective point of view, exposure coincides with the possibility of not being able to stop in case you fall; it is therefore something not to be taken lightly. Where these situations occur, you need maximum attention. But, exposure is also fundamentally the feel of empty that you may experience while walking on a trail. It is really a perception, so something largely individual. Some people do not suffer it at all; others, myself included, suffer exposure a lot.
An exposed trail may also be very easy, almost flat and with a good ground; but, if you suffer exposure of the side slope, that could be a real problem. If that deep sense of panic takes you, blocking all your movements, there is nothing to do; this trail is not for us, at least not in these conditions and in that moment.
Cables to which secure yourself can be a lot helpful; or, somewhat less, is the presence of somebody not suffering exposure; and even less, that of petulant companions, each one with own advice about how to reassure you. Consider that metal cables are not there to be hold by hands: in case of need, this will be of no use; metal cables only serve to secure yourself by means of appropriate safety equipment.

HIking Apennine

A very exposed trail: it is only for people not suffering this situation; otherwise it is a pain. Mount Macina, Apuanian Alps.

HIking Apennine

An equipped trail: the cables only serve for security, non to be held by hands

Slippery stretches. This is a very common situation, in all seasons. It occurs because of rain, dew, the humidity of valleys or gullies, the crossing of streams… A condition to be always taken with caution, at least to avoid to continuously fall on the ground. Some very easy stretches of path may become almost impassable when slippery wet. Sometimes I had to give up and turn back. If you are suspicious, carefully try the ground before charging your step. When you cannot see the ground, because of leaf or grass cover, always try, and beware that leaves and grass can be very slippery also when very dry. Wet wood is soapy slippery: avoid it.

Crossing streams. This is also a very common occurrence, in some periods and along some trails. I here exclude crossing deep and wild water: it is not what I do and what I wish to communicate you to do. So, I only speak of situations in which you may get wet, without facing big risks, but to slip.

Balancing on slippery stones may be amazing, if the only risk is to slip and take a more or less complete bath, generally cold; train yourself, if you want, and if you become an expert, do it.
Sometimes, you will definitely have to decide to get into the water. Hardliners will do wearing their boots and socks, and will stay with wet feet for the rest of the day. If the ground allows, not being too rough or slippery, an advice: take off shoes and socks, also trousers, if needed; cross and put your clothes on again, remaining dry. I obviously speak about short crossings, where you do not face the risk of hurting your feet or freezing your tips.
If however you have to cross several times, undressing and dressing may make you stuck on this stream until night. So, better to keep your shoes and socks on. Unless you were not so smart to bring a pair of sandals with you; in this case you can wear them for a while, putting your shoes on again later.

HIking Apennine

The path crosses a stream, a very common situation

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

Stones, gravel etc. are inseparable companions along many trails. If you can see them well and are able to move with “elegance”, they will hardly do any harm. But, for sure, they will somewhat slow your pace down, and you must accept that. When hidden, they can represent a pretty high risk of falling.
Big and mobile stones are the worst. Fine gravel can be misleading: a thick layer of it can invite to amazing, although environmentally unfriendly, rolling descents (but ascending is a different story); but, when the layer is thin, laying on steep and smooth rock layers, it can create some of the most uncomfortable situations: the risk of slipping is for granted, either down or uphill, making your progression  extremely slow.

Wood. There is nowadays a lot of  wood on paths, since naturally falling wood is not picked anymore by people living in the mountains. Some paths are literally covered with fallen wood; in some other cases, the wood is what remains from forest cuts, that are nowadays badly managed and leave the terrain very dirty. Fallen wood can make your walk a pain. Pieces of wood roll; when wet, they are slippery; in whatever way you stumble on wood the consequences can be unpleasant. Wherever there is wood on the ground, you will have to slow down, there is nothing to do. And, do not underestimate these situations.
You will also often find whole trees fallen across your path, always nasty to overtake; you often have  to turn round them, adding some ascent; when trees fall across narrow passages, getting through can also become dangerous; if something similar will happen, preferably bypass the fallen tree uphill, and evaluate well the situation.

HIking Apennine

A tree fallen across a path: an almost invariably at least nasty situation

Leaves. Leaves on the ground can always hide something. On steep paths, a leaf mat requires great caution. But also on flat ground, you can end into a mud hole covered with leaves; it is not dangerous, maybe, but not even too amusing, if not for your hiking companions.

Shortcuts. A very problematic word.  On well tracked paths, shortcuts very often risk to become “long cuts”; especially on the old muletracks, that were built on the needs of men (and mules), with the best compromise between length and slope. Moreover, shortcuts often generate erosion, and should be better avoided. In some cases they may be tempting but:
– you must be sure of where they start, where they end and what is between: otherwise avoid them: it can be very dangerous;
– be sure that, to save few metres, you do not end on unaffordable slopes;
– consider the ground of the shortcut.
In general, I would say that the only case when shortcuts are advantageous is when they are clearly visible, with decent ground, and cross road bends, that notoriously add length to your walk. Sometimes it can happen that silly built forest tracks are very eroded; in these cases, walking on side tracks may be more comfortable and safer.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

Other living beings, besides you

Plants. The nastiest ones are for sure brambles and stinging nettles, both very common, especially in former cultivated fields, now colonised by spontaneous vegetation. You will mainly find brambles at lower heights, whereas stinging nettles live almost everywhere. What to say: wear long trousers and cover your arms with a robust shirt. The blue jeans tissue, if not too tight, is almost thorn-proof, but it will be rarely part of an hiker’s wearing, because of other not positive characteristics. But if you go for short hikes, where you know you will meet spiny plants or nettles, a sturdy jeans jacket will allow you to plunge almost un-hurt into this kind of vegetation.
You can then meet other spiny plants, like roses or the Mediterranean salsaparilla, or stinging ones, like junipers etc. But if you really end up into a spine field, it will be since, at 99%, you missed your way, or because your trail does not exist anymore; so, get out and find a different way.

HIking Apennine

Brambles are Ok to pick blackberries, less to be crossed

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

Animals

The viper  is a hikers’ myth, the dark presence to which several thousands of words and pages have been devoted. It is only a remote danger. Without debating about the effects of its bite, the chance for a hiker to be bitten are almost zero. To be clear, vipers do exist and can be rather commonly seen. But they will never attack you; if they realise you have seen them, or if they see you, they will try to slip away. Do not disturb them and you will have no trouble. This however also means avoiding unintentionally touching them. Given that if you will step by chance on a viper with your hiking boots (poor viper!), wearing thick socks and long trousers, a possible reaction will not do you any harm, it remains to carefully explore the ground when you stop to rest; and also look well where you put your hands, even when using them to help your progression.

HIking Apennine

An encounter with a viper is not rare, but substantially harmless

Insects. Hornets and wasps are undoubtedly among the most serious dangers, especially at lower heights: try to accurately avoid them, stay away from their nests. Generally those insects do not have unexpected reactions, but you can never know. Do not rummage any cavity, included building doors or shelters, without seeing what is inside. If you are attacked, do not try to run away without controlling the situation; rather, if you have a spare cloth, like a shirt or a jacket, use it to keep the insect away, while rapidly drawing back; when you arrive at safety distance from their nest, they should generally give up. Also avoid going too close to honeybee hives.
Horseflies can be extremely nasty. They are typical of areas where there is cattle or abundant wild mammals; their sting is very painful, although not dangerous. If they target you, they can fly around you forever. They will generally not “land” on your skin while you are moving. When they alight, it means that they are about to sting: in this moment, you can easily knock them down, but you have to strike heavily, since they are coriaceous, and also have the habit of letting them fall on the ground, pretending to be dead and, immediately after, start annoying you again. So, if they landed on your face, be careful not to hurt yourself with too powerful slaps.
Flies. In marsh or bog areas they can be in exorbitant numbers. After having been inevitably bitten, go away: there is nothing else to do, unless you have an effective repellant with you.

Ticks. Ticks may represent a real problem. They can be abundant in places where there are a lot of animals, domestic or wild. Ticks are slow and will generally climb on you during your rests, but also when you walk through high grass. Sit preferably on trunks or rocks, not among dense grass. After your rests, in case of doubt, explore yourself well since in some seasons the young ticks are microscopic . If a tick just climbed on you, for sure it will not yet have inserted its beak, so it will be easy to shake it away. If you realise of  its presence at home, when already stuck, the decision of what to do will be yours; with a minimum of experience you can easily remove the tick using ordinary, flat ended tweezers, without the need of those kind of gadgets called “tick tweezers”. If you do not want, do not even try: go to your family doctor or to first aid, where often they may be not much more familiar with ticks than you are, but will in some way remove the animal. Consider however that, if you caught a tick in infected areas, you should anyway consult a doctor, since ticks can transmit a serious disease.

Spiders. Even the biggest spiders that you may find in our environments are not dangerous, except a couple of species. But, personally, the idea of having one splashed on me is horrifying. They are among the few animals for which I cannot feel any sympathy, not even seeing them from far. Besides this personal feeling, in less trodden paths, little spiders use to build their nets just across the way, and you will inevitably break them with different parts of your body, your face included; a stick will help breaking the nets before you pass, but it is very unlikely that you could see them all in advance. If you are particularly disgusted of all these spider nets on you, ask somebody else to open the row  or at least try to do, possibly without explaining the reason of your request.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

HIking Apennine

A big spider on a wild carrot umbel; it is shy and harmless, but cannot transmit any sympathy to me

Wild mammals. Meeting roes, deers, wild boars, moufflons is quite common. They generally simply go away. If they don’t, find a safe position, with rocks or trees as shelters and watch what they intend to do. It is extremely unlikely that they could attack. If you have a dog, that could be a different matter: wild boars hate dogs and could attack it, especially if it barks and wants to disturb them. Unluckily there is no story: boar wins.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

HIking Apennine

Wild boars grazing among tall grass

“Domestic” animals. Here the situation is quite different. The domestic animals you may encounter are the ones more or less freely grazing the ranges, and their guardians (dogs).

Dogs generally accompany sheep herds, but sometimes also cows. They have well clear what is the limit that you should not cross, and there is no compromise; if your path crosses a place where there is a flock with dogs, find a different way. If dogs approach you, stay calm and try to go on, letting dogs understand that you are not going to approach the flock. If they do not give up, stay calm again, and try to say simple words, like “no-no”, with resolute but calm voice, never aggressive. Generally they watch you, still bark but, face to your combination of steadiness and availability to go away, nothing will happen. If they really approach too much, do not give your back, but behave the same way, with even more resolute attitude, but again without showing any aggressiveness. Consider that holding a robust stick in your hand will help. Shepherd dogs know it very well; obviously, simply hold it in hand, like a walking stick, not showing any intention to use it; generally that’s enough. But, if you really have to use it (it never happened to me), be very determined.

HIking Apennine

Shepherd dogs can also be quite and friendly, when not at work

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

Sheep, without dogs, are harmless, but I would say that they do not exist; muttons can be aggressive in some period of the year, but the possibility of an encounter is so rare, that this does not represent a problem. Goats of  different kinds tend to go away, showing themselves up and down the most un-accessible slopes, without moving not even a little piece of gravel; then they watch you with an air of demand: “but who are those so slow beings, and why should we be afraid of them ?”.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

HIking Apennine

Goats like to exhibit for hikers

Bovines, in dependence of their and your size, will outweigh you 4-20 times: to be absolutely avoided. Their temperament depends on breed and on their habit to meet hikers. In crowded hiking areas they are often very amenable, and simply curious.
But free-range grazing bovines are often fiery animals, sometimes also curious, but generally rather suspicious of strangers. When they have calves, they can have protective attitudes. Do not even think, unless you are very confident, to cross herds in open terrain. Rather, go round, and let them know that your way is not their way. If there is a nearby forest where you could easily walk in, try to by-pass the herd walking among the trees. If the animals are also into the forest, walk around them as you can. But, in any case, walk like your deviation was planned, without showing fear, that is strongly perceived by the animals. Do not insist to pass through narrow stretches where there are bovines; rather, wait and see if they go away; if you are in a safe position, you may try some little noises and ample waves with your arms, but never aggressively; but if they do not quietly go away, go away yourself.

Horses are almost the same size as cows. Horses are often more active and curious; and they can also be fiery and little friendly with foreigners. It may happen that the herd leader come to you with the air of: “but what damn do you want here”; if it insists, find a protected place and wait until it gets tired of the game and goes away. For the rest, behave as with cows.

HIking Apennine

Peaceful, but very big, cows, the other side of a shelter

Friendly horses and uncautious tourists

Human beings. I do not even open the chapter of humans with bad intentions, that could exist on the mountains, as anywhere else, since I could not tell you anything useful about this.
Let’s remain with people going hiking “for pleasure”. The biggest danger are stones that, contrary to goats, humans abundantly move, much easily if they are not used to walk on stony grounds.
Watch above you, and avoid to be under the trajectory of a falling stone. Consider however, that if a stone starts rolling down the slope at risky distance, and does not stop, it may change  direction several times and make big jumps; so, before moving here and there, wait until the stone is relatively close to you, to be sure of its final direction.
And consider that people enjoying throwing stones down steep slopes, as a game to see what happens, do exist ! And it happened to me to meet them several times.

HIking Apennine

Wild boar hunters at mount Caucaso.

Avoid as much as possible the areas and days of wild boar hunting. Nothing will intentionally happen but, apart the risk of accidents, you will be unfriendly considered by hunters.

Hiking Apennine. piudimille.com

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