Backcountry Hazards

Note: By using the SEAtrails website, maps and trails you accept full legal and personal responsibility for inherent dangers and risks. It is your responsibility to find out about current trail and weather conditions and submit a travel plan before going out (e.g. coast guard for kayak, etc.). SEAtrails is not liable for injury, death, or any damages to personal property. Users should be aware that under Alaska state laws AS 09.65.290 and AS 09.65.200 recreational users assume full liability for their activities.

When venturing into backcountry take a friend or go with a group, and let someone know the planned route and time of return. Plan ahead. Before leaving, day hikers should ask themselves if they can survive the night out of doors given the current time of year. Decide beforehand when to turn back, whether the objective has been reached or not.



Slippery Wet Boardwalks and Spring Snow

River Crossings


Some of the deep valley routes described are subject to avalanches during winter and early spring. Especially vulnerable are those close to the downtown area of Juneau, the Chilkoot Trail, and the Blue Lake road east of Sitka. Inquire of the locals or the parks and recreation department in Juneau, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in Sitka, and the National Park Service (NPS) in Skagway, if unsure of the status of any of these trails. High ridges are also subject to cornicing (overhanging snow), which may collapse without warning. Stay away from snow edges and remain behind cracks on ridge edges.

The Prime Killer: Hypothermia and Wind Chill

Hypothermia, the prime killer of outdoor recreationists, is more common than many people realize. Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature due to cold or wet conditions and/or fatigue. It can be recognized by slowing of pace, clumsiness, disorientation, apathy, and irrational behavior.

As soon as any member of the party appears to be getting irreversibly cold, stop. Find a sheltered spot (retreat into trees, if at all possible) and build a fire. Do not give food or drink if the victim is not fully rational or conscious. Do not give alcohol under any circumstances. If the victim is wet, insist that they don dry clothing. Failing that, wrap the cold person in a plastic tarp or garbage bag to create a vapor barrier, which will reduce heat loss due to evaporation. If a sleeping bag, tent, or space blanket is available, use them, and insulate the victim from the ground. (Warm the sleeping bag beforehand or get into the bag with the patient. A sleeping bag insulates; it will not raise the victim’s body temperature on its own.)

Concentrate on warming the core areas, such as the head, chest, groin, and armpits. Keep the extremities cool. Do not leave the patient alone. Wind chill is also a killer. Subtract one degree in temperature per mile an hour in wind speed and plan accordingly.


Devil’s Club

Devil's Club

Learn to recognize the aptly-named devil’s club plant, whose large, umbrellalike leaves grow on long, spiny stalks that sometimes reach a height of 10 feet. In fall, vertical clusters of red berries ripen in the center of the plant, and the leaves turn a radiant golden brown. It is beautiful and highly photogenic, but avoid contact at all costs. Fine barbs penetrate the skin and will stay for a week or more. On steep slopes wear leather gloves if possible. (Murphy’s Law dictates that the one plant on hand that will save the hiker when a slip occurs is Devil’s Club!)

The Journey Basics material was adapted from Discover Southeast Alaska with Pack and Paddle by Margaret Piggott, published by The Mountaineers, 1990. Used with permission of the author Margaret H. Piggott.

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