Some of my readers here are planning a visit to the Rocky Mountains as part of a family vacation, prospecting adventure or other sojourn. If you are inexperienced with real mountains, you may have some anxieties about coming. Worried about extreme weather, fast moving rivers, dangerous animals, road conditions or screwy locals? Good. You should be. Folks die every year here from mountain stuff they don’t understand.
Good news, I have a few points of advice here and guidance on how to learn more so you can have fun AND be safe in the mountains.
First a few safety points focused on gold prospecting:
- Bring a friend along, even if they don’t prospect. That way when you slip in the water and whack your head on a rock, there is someone to fish you out before you drown.
- Bring a set of dry clothes along. Wet can lead to cold can lead to hypothermia easily in the mountains. Even in the midst of summertime. More people die from hypothermia every summer than do in winter!
- Use sunblock. Every time. The sun in the mountains is filtered by less atmosphere so you burn faster. Add on the reflected UV from the creek water and you have double the chance to get a burn, and someday, skin cancer.
- Be extra cautious in moving water. Even knee deep, fast moving water can literally sweep you away to an early grave. Or almost as bad, suck you under, leading to you gulping a mouthful of water. Sounds ok until the nasty germs give you months of the runs and you lose 50+ pounds like happened to a prospector I know.
- Bring bear spray along. Useful for discouraging any critter (4 legged or 2) that is getting too friendly with you. I’ve never seen a bear while prospecting but I’ve met a person or two who would have benefited from a good squirt 😉
- Bring water along. Dehydration happens fast when you are at elevation (the air is dry and you have to breathe more of it to get the same amount of oxygen since it is thinner) and you will be sweating it out as you dig.
- Let someone know where you are headed and when to expect to hear from you, just like with any back country activity. That way they know when to call the posse…
- Remember your cell phone will lose coverage easily in the mountains, valleys, and canyons (even on I-70 there are gaps in coverage). This means you need to download maps or use another sort of map altogether. Also you won’t be able to assume you can always call for help, or even just to check in, when you are standing in the creek in a beautiful mountain setting.
- Stay away from open mine shafts. Dangerous air, deeps holes and other hazards await. The state covers the ones that have killed people, but there are thousands more waiting their turn to remove stupid from our species. If you die in one, they’ll probably cover it too but that’s a little late for you isn’t it?!
Scared yet? Don’t be. Just be smart enough to make it home so you can read more of my stuff in the future 😉 Reading back over my list I realize there’s nothing here specific to prospecting…this all applies to every mountain visitor.
To learn more about being safe in the mountains and to also read some funny stories, get the book “Welcome to the Mountains…Now Behave!” by Geno Kennedy. It’s funny, to the point, brief and even useful. He has lots of specifics on the real hazards of weather, geography, human interaction, roads and so on. All told clearly and a little tongue-in-cheek 😉 I highly recommend it. Here’s how you can get it (note: I’ll get about 25 cents if you buy this book lol):
The book is available in paperback or Kindle. Enjoy!
The author and I had the opportunity to meet recently. He is a legit prospector and mountain man who lives in the old mining and railroad town of Rollinsville, CO. If you’d like to connect with him directly he is at firstname.lastname@example.org