River Risks: Two Deadly Dangers to Avoid in the Great Outdoors

Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,

Spring is finally here and summer is just around the corner, which means people all over the United States are heading outside. Camping, hiking, fishing… you name it — these activities are great ways to spend your time during the next several months.

That said, you will likely find yourself near a water source of some kind — be it a lake, river or stream. With that come a few inherent risks you need to be aware of.

Contaminated Water

If you plan to drink from one of these water sources, you need to make sure you are consuming “safe” water. That means water free from bacteria and particulates that can ruin your week.

The last thing you want is to get sick from drinking dirty water. One result of drinking contaminated water is diarrhea. This will dehydrate you and make your situation much worse.

I have personally dealt with giardiasis on two occasions and it is NOT fun. Giardiasis is caused by microscopic parasites. The resulting infection is marked by fatigue, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhea.

Like I said, NOT FUN.

The first time, my doctor failed to properly diagnose me — he didn’t request a Gram stain lab — and he was convinced I had leukemia. To be honest, I felt like I was dying.

Nope — it was giardiasis. But after a week of the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl), I felt like a million bucks.

Here are several ways you can make water from a lake or stream safe to drink:

  1. Boiling — A rolling boil for at least five minutes should suffice.
  1. Water filter — Make sure it removes microorganisms. The SurvFilter (for example) is independently certified to filter out bacteria, viruses, Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
  1. Filtration straw — Basically, a smaller version of a water filter. Again, make sure it removes microorganisms.
  1. Purification tablets — This is my personal preference because they’re small and lightweight. Get the kind that is two-stage: The first tablet kills the bacteria and the second tablet removes the taste of the first.  The entire process only takes 30 minutes.
  1. UV water purifier — Check out the SteriPEN. It’s quick — it only takes a few minutes. Just remember one of my favorite sayings: “If it takes a battery, it’s gonna take a sh*t exactly when you need it.” Pack extras.

Flash Floods

In the U.S., flooding is the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths. Between thawing snow and the occasional heavy thunderstorm, you need to account for the possibility that your water source could turn into a deadly wall of water traveling at an incredible speed.

Water is a powerful element, weighing 8.3 pounds per gallon. When it moves at flood speed, it sweeps away cars and trucks, rips up trees, demolishes buildings, ruins roadways and collapses bridges.

Take this into consideration when choosing your campsite. It’s better to be on higher ground and have to walk a ways to a water source than risk getting swept away.

Before you head out, get at least a three-day weather forecast and always keep an eye on the sky. But be aware that even if you don’t see any rain, danger could be just around the bend.

In the summer of 1976, Colorado’s Big Thompson Canyon had a flash flood caused by a severe thunderstorm higher up in the canyon. Twelve inches of rain fell in less than four hours. The victims, including 143 dead, had seen little or no rain when the flood overtook them.

The No. 1 rule if you see a wall of water coming your way is CLIMB TO SAFETY. Whether you are on foot or in your car (get out), get moving and CLIMB!

If you get swept up by the rushing water, position yourself so you are on your back with your feet in front of you. If you hit rocks or branches, your legs will absorb the impact much better than your head. Then swim like hell to the nearest shore.

I want you to enjoy the great outdoors this spring and summer. Just be prepared for these life-threatening situations if they arise.

Be a survivor… not a statistic,

Cade Courtley

Cade Courtley

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