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How to Hike Safely in the Catskill Mountains

buttermilk falls

OVERVIEW: The Catskill Mountains have some of the most rugged hiking trails in the world. Just because the highest mountain is just over 4,000 feet high, does not mean that the trails are easy and not dangerous. It is not that hard to be killed while hiking in the Catskill Mountains. It seems that there is one death per year in the Catskills. Deaths come from heart attacks, plane crashes, and falls off ledges and cliffs. Most serious injuries and deaths occur at the Kaaterskill Falls.

STREAMS: Many of the hiking trails in the Catskill Mountains cross streams. During normal weather most streams are easy to cross. But, after a significant rain or snow-melt, some of these streams can start to rage. Crossing the stream when it is raging can result in you being sweep off your feet. This can result in your death. The faster the water is moving the more dangerous it is. Water moving a couple MPH can be crossed with the water comes up to your knee. But, water moving 30 MPH can sweep you off your feet in a couple inches of water. The other factor is how slippery nature of the rocks on the stream bottom. Moss covered rocks are very slippery. But, you also need to know that water spray on rocks near the shore can be very slippery, and often are. Making a long jump to a large rock sticking out of the water can be a mistake. Just because you can make the jump does not mean that you will not slip off the rock. Wet rocks in the Catskill Mountains tend to be very slippery. Sometimes slippery wet rocks look completely dry. Don't be fooled.

buttermilk falls
The picture on the left is the stream that feeds Buttermilk Falls on the south side of the Kaaterskill Clove (north side of the Kaaterskill Mountain Range). While the water look calm and idyllic, it can be a raging monster after a large storm. The water here can be over five feet deep and running at 30 MPH.

LEDGES & WATERFALLS: Ledges and Waterfalls are where most serious injuries and deaths occur. Most people underestimate the danger. There are several ways of falling off ledges or waterfalls. Some people walk in the water on the edge of the water falls. Algae often grows on the rocks, and people slip on the slick algae covered rocks. Do not walk in the water near the edge of the falls. People try to cross the stream above the waterfalls and fall in the water and are swept over the falls. Standing on the edge of any ledge can cause you to be sucked over the ledge. Whenever the wind is blowing it causes the wind to blow up the cliff pas the ledge. There is a concept called the Bernoulli's Principle. Bernoulli's Principle will cause a suction perpendicular to direction of the wind. This can cause you to be sucked off the ledge. So, always stay back from the edge of the ledge.

buttermilk falls
The picture on the left is the the top of Kaaterskill Falls. There have been many death over the years at Kaaterskill Falls. Only one person has survived from falling off the upper falls.

HYDRATION: If you are a day hiker it is usually better to bring your own water with you. This can be bottled water, or tap water filled into a plastic or steel bottles. Most people bring one bottle of water during the colder months of the Fall, Winter, and Spring. In the warmer months of Summer, it is common to bring in three bottles of water. In the Catskill Mountains there are two other sources of water. One is a spring fed pipe. You will find pipes sticking out the ground for filling water bottles. These sources are fairly safe. There is a low change of contracting an intestinal disease from these spring feed sources. The last source of water are running streams, ponds, and lakes. These sources of water are unsafe. Waterborne disease can be caused by protozoa, viruses, or bacteria, many of which are intestinal parasites. The most commonly known problem of waterborne disease is Giardia. Some diseses can cause servere intestinal issues, and in some cases, death. It is always best to plan your water needs before your hike.

SUPPLIES: Everyone carries different supplies while day hiking. And, it also depends upon the time of year you go hiking. In the summer the most important supply is water. In the winter, the most important supplies are extra socks, gloves, and a hat. Here is a list of commonly carried supplies:

    Clippers or a knife
    Medical white tape for developing blisters
    FootGlide for areas where blisters can develop
    Bug Spray (summer)
    Bear spray (optional)
    Extra gloves (fall, winter, and spring)
    Extra socks (fall, winter, and spring)
    Hat (fall, winter, and spring)
    Rain coat or large garbage bag (Spring, Fall, and Summer)

You need clippers or a knife to start a fire in case you get lost or injured and you have to spend the night in the wild. We will talk about how to start a fire without matches later on. Medical tape is used to tape your heal, toes, or the side of your foot against chaffing and blisters. You can apply FootGlide or BodyGlide to areas of your body to make them slippery. This will help prevent blisters and chaffing. Use bug spray with high levels of DEET to repel black flies, mosquitos, deer flies, and horse flies. Bear spray is rarely used by most hikers, and hard to find. But, if you are hiking in high-population areas of bears, it can be extra protection.

LEG CRAMPS: Leg cramps can be a problem during or after a hike. Leg cramps are caused by your body not having enough Potassium. There are certain foods that are high in potassium.

    Bananas (400 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Yogurt (531 mg per 8 oz)
    Dried Apricots (1380 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Nuts (600 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Figs (900 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Raisins (1020 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Dried Fruit (880 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Baked Potato (600 mg per 100 grams of food)
    Beans (700-1300 mg per cup of food)

You need 3,500 mg of potassium per day. 18,000 mg of potassium per day is considered too much. Keeping your potassium level up days before hiking will help prevent cramps. You should also take potassium rich foods right after a hike to prevent cramping in the evening. Sodium (salt) rich foods will compete with the potassium and deplete your body of potassium.

The second part of the equation for preventing leg cramps is being hydrated. Water is needed to wash the lactic acid out of your muscles. If you are dehydrated then your body cannot get rid of the lactic acid. This will cause you to cramp significantly more. It is important to keep hydrated during your hike. Right after you finish your hike drink lots of water until you are fully hydrated. Fully hydrated means that you have to use the bathroom often, and your urine is pale yellow.

If you continue to get cramps use Aleve, Advil, etc to reduce cramps.

Links and References: Forum - Ask questions or talk about Hiking Gear in the Catskill Mountains
Wikipedia - Waterborne diseases
Potassium Rich Foods

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