In that case, go ahead and panic

THE WEST

Don’t you just love those helpful hints about what to do when you’re caught in a jam while out hiking miles from the nearest rural road? Your first response is probably hopeless despair — the outback is, by definition, a long way from a hospital. Fortunately, a recent issue of Backpacker magazine offers reasonable solutions for some of the unpleasant things that can happen when you’re in the backcountry.

An example: What should you do if a fishhook snags in your cheek? Clip the barb, sterilize with an alcohol wipe (something we’re sure every hiker carries) and “slide it out.” If the barb lands in your eye, though, hurry to the nearest emergency room, no matter how far away.

Then there’s the shock of losing traction on a steep slope of scree; how do you arrest your slide, before it’s too late? Do what seems unnatural: stop leaning in and “stand up straight.”

If, for some reason, you find the odd leech attached to your body and sucking blood: “Don’t panic. Slide your fingernail along your skin toward the leech’s small end and push sideways to dislodge.” If you find a leech in your ear, however, you’re allowed to panic; then try puncturing it with a pin and dragging it out.

Should you get caught in an “inescapable wildfire,” run for the nearest lake, ditch or rocky spot, into which you should lower yourself and hope for the best, which in this case would be a low-intensity blaze.

But there are some things that can’t be remedied by a helpful hint, and number one is blundering into a bruin (presumably without bear spray): “There’s no sugarcoating it; this will suck.” Playing dead while rolling yourself into a ball might work, but “if it doesn’t give up on you within a minute, fight back with everything you have.”

MONTANA AND WYOMING

For columnist Todd Wilkinson, writing in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the claim didn’t compute: Three years ago, a group called Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd predicted that wolves would cause the largest migrating elk herd on Earth to become extinct in three years, while also turning the Yellowstone ecosystem into a “biological desert … a wasteland.” Neither had happened the last anyone looked, though the then-chairman of the group, Robert T. Fanning Jr., continues to rail against wolves as he runs for governor of Montana on an anti-wolf platform.

Wilkinson says he spent several days reading 50 different outfitter Internet sites to get a current picture of life for both elk herds and wolves living from the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to the Canadian border. The result: “Not a single proprietor of guided hunts mentions anything remotely suggesting that wolves are annihilating elk herds or jeopardizing the quality of hunts.” In fact, elk hunting seems to be as good as ever, with outfitters competing to lure hunters with fabulous tales of success in the still-wild wild.

“Either clients are being fibbed to, or the public is. Which is it?”

Meanwhile, the Ravalli Republic reports that “mountain lions are targeting radio-collared wolves in the Bitterroot.” Last year, two wolves with tracking collars were killed by lions that punctured their skulls, and since January, lions killed two more collared wolves in similar fashion.

THE WEST

When outdoor writer Peter Anderson took his young daughter backpacking a summer or so ago, he tells Colorado Central, they did not end up going alone. Strapped to his daughter’s pack were some of her dearest friends, two, out-of-their-element Barbie dolls. The first indignity: The dolls were stripped of their finery and set afloat to bump down a mountain stream.

“How strange this must be for the Barbies,” Anderson mused, “to be without their usual closets full of Barbie clothes, without their pink Corvettes and mini cellphones, hundreds of miles from the nearest mall.” Even more demoralizing, the dolls spent a cold night dressed only in pink evening gowns, their bed a woolen mitten: “We didn’t … like … sign up for this,” they seemed to complain to him. Yet the morning sun found them smiling, you know, as usual.

WYOMING

After Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi proposed making the bison the country’s official mammal, the Casper Star-Tribune expressed delight, tongue firmly in cheek: “America is dangerously short of official animals, official soft drinks, official products and sponsors for professional sports leagues.” As for Congress being alarmingly out of touch these days, “If there is a move less critical, more symbolic than adopting a mammal, it’s probably second only to Congress’ most-cherished election-year summer activity — naming federal post offices.” Only this year, the paper added, those are the same post offices probably slated for closure.

COLORADO

Breathless news from Aspen: Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia finally unloaded his mega-mansion on Red Mountain, selling the 56,000-square-foot, 15-bedroom, 16-bathroom house on 130 acres to hedge fund manager John A. Paulson, the man who bet against the rampant real estate boom that crashed in 2008. The price: $49 million. The sale ranks as one of the priciest real estate transactions in Aspen’s history, says the Aspen Daily News.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an essay service of High Country News(hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in the column (betsym@hcn.org).

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