Summer Scaries

storm lightning strike safety

Watch-outs for the hot season.

In Montana, summer is about as splendid as it gets—hot enough to make jumping into the river feel refreshing, and cool enough to fall asleep at night. The mountains and water call us to the backcountry, and it’s a wonderful time to answer. But heading out half-cocked isn’t a good idea. Weather can turn quickly here, and not every critter you run into is friendly (e.g., griz and mama moose). Just because the sun’s shining doesn’t mean you needn’t take precautions.

Bozeman isn’t the hottest place on the planet, but the past few summers have been scorchers. Dehydration and heat stroke should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for water, both for drinking and cooling down. There are many creeks from which to fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but if you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any until you hit the valley floor. I keep a full jug in the truck at all times.

If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. We have it here, and if you expose your skin to it, it will suck. Learn how to identify the plant and areas where it’s likely to grow. In general, you can’t go wrong with the old adage: leaves of three, let it be.

Up in the high country, your main watch-out is electricity, and no, I’m not talking about that radio tower marring the view. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and cumulus cloud build-up. If you happen to get caught in a storm, move to lower ground, take off all metal objects (watches, belts, keys), and assume lightning position (squat with hands behind your head) until it passes.

If one of those bolts connects with dry fuel, say a dead tree, it oftentimes ignites. You’ve probably heard the news—come summertime, we get forest fires. Getting caught in one while you’re out and about is not a primary concern. Start one, however, and consider yourself pilloried, plus fines and potential jail time. There are often campfire mandates during the hotter months, but if you have one when permitted, make sure you keep it contained with a rock ring, monitor it constantly, and extinguish it completely. Many a smoldering cooking fire has led to a wildfire with devastating consequences.