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I made plans to do some hiking in the mountains of Nevada this weekend. I'll have someone there nearby and a hospital is an hour drive away. We thought it would be fun to uncover rocks and even dig the soil to try and see if we can get lucky finding gold nuggets.

But now I'm really starting to wonder, how dangerous is this?

Venomous snakes, scorpions, spiders, and lizards seem to be of most concern. With many thousands getting bit by these venomous creatures each year in the US. And then there's also the unlikely event of a bobcat, wolf or coyote attack.

In the event of something like this happening, the hospitals could end up billing me tens of thousands of dollars. And my insurance likely won't cover this. The hospital bills could either bankrupt me or destroy my credit for years.

Am I being overly cautious to worry about this, or is this something that could potentially happen?

What would you guess the probability is of being bitten or attacked in the Nevada desert for every 1 hour of walking around a mountain, uncovering rocks and digging in the soil?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Rory Alsop May 19 '18 at 8:09
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    Michael - the problem here is probably your final sentence. It has no quantitative answer. And "how dangerous" is a bit broad. I think this can be reopened if you remove the final sentence altogether – Rory Alsop May 20 '18 at 8:03
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    I don't understand why this question was closed. It may be naive and missing some obvious points, but that's what we're here to answer. Otherwise it is clearly on topic and clearly written. – Olin Lathrop May 20 '18 at 12:56
  • Some of the areas that I was walking around had lots of snake holes in the ground. It became hard to avoid them sometimes as I'd only see some of them when I got within a couple of feet. And there were lots of small bushes around my boots. So if anyone still has any advice or opinion on the matter of how dangerous this is it's really helpful to me, and probably others. Ty to everyone who has been so helpful thus far – Michael d May 21 '18 at 13:29
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Is it "severely dangerous"? Maybe

Is there risk? Absolutely

I'm going to say first off that you seem like you have little to no hiking/outdoor experience, and whatever answers me or other users give you here are NOT a substitute to knowing and understanding the hazards and risks yourself. Hiking is usually a pretty safe activity, but you can easily get into a bad situation if you don't know what you're doing. We should not be your only source of information

That said, here are some general things to consider:

  • You can't count on cell reception in the wilderness (if you have Verizon, you may have better but still not reliable coverage)
  • Staying hydrated is a high priority. Heat and high elevation make it harder; Nevada mountains have both
  • Tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, that way if don't come back someone'll know to look for you
  • Most deaths in the wilderness happen because the person didn't realize they were in a survival situation until it was too late. 'Well I've gotten this far / it's just a bit further' are also major causes of fatalities. If you're in a bad situation, just go back
  • Animals can be dangerous, but knowing how to react helps

  • Most deaths/injuries/rescues are not animal related

  • A sedan/station wagon/crossover can't handle a jeep trail
  • This list is not exhaustive

If I infer correctly, the area you plan to go to ("mountains in the Nevada desert") sounds pretty remote, and you are somewhat inexperienced. If this your plan, I would suggest not doing it. Instead go somewhere less remote the first time (What is remote? Distance from a paved road is a good general test of remoteness)

"What would you guess the probability is of being bitten or attacked in the Nevada desert for every 1 hour...?"

I think you're inordinately worried about animal attacks. I mean the hospital bill for breaking your leg is just as high. And a bit of perspective here, many people go into the desert every year and don't get injured. I've spent a lot of time in the wilderness and it's honestly not as scary as you might think

The bottom line is know how to be safe, be prepared, don't go alone. My friend and I used to do something Charlie specifically warned you not to; our motto was 'live to explore another day', it should be yours too

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    Welcome to the site. Good reasoning and I am looking forward to more content from you. (+1) – Willeke May 18 '18 at 12:20
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    Well written article of stuff for me to think about. TY – Michael d May 18 '18 at 13:45
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    Also, pro tip, if you must turn over a rock, use a stick/pole/shovel (ie, something as an extension of your arms) to flip it. Any surprises (if any) will be at a distance from your face that way. – SnakeDoc May 18 '18 at 15:02
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    And the solution to the cell coverage problem, outside box canyons, is a 406MHz ELT. Push button, cell phone rings, you say "sorry, false alarm" or a Civil Air Patrol aircraft or sheriff's helo soon appears in your sky. Hopefully "your sky" is not your garage, marina slot, or aircraft tie-down. That's why they call. It's free after you buy the unit, but you can't use it to tweet. – Harper May 18 '18 at 16:49
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    Most of this does not answer the question, instead going on about general outdoor issues. The two bits that do answer contradict each other ("risk? absolutely... you're inordinately worried... many don't get injured"). As for "You seem inexperienced..." I did not get that from the Q. I am completely comfortable in the wilderness, but I am almost always in areas with no poisonous creatures, and the deadliest animals run away if you yell at them; so this is a very valid question, and I'm interested in the answer too. As highest rated answer, could you add more direct answer please? – Aaron May 21 '18 at 15:05
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About the only real danger of the ones you mentioned is a scorpion under a rock you just picked up. They do hide in crevasses under rocks during the day. Just be aware that there might be a scorpion under any rock, and pick it up accordingly. For example, if it's a fist-sized rock, don't pick it up by wrapping your hand around it. If in doubt, kick the rock out of the way first, or move it aside with a stick or something.

As for your other concerns, they are either unrealistic, very unlikely, or downright silly.

Snakes are too large to hide under small rocks you can pick up with your hand. There might be a rattlesnake behind a rock obscured by a bush where you don't notice it. That is something you need to be careful of, but not under a rock.

Bobcats and coyotes simply don't attack people (assuming normal, not rabid, etc). If there is a bobcat nearby, you won't see it. If you do see one further away, it will keep track of you and stay out of your way. Bobcats are too small to see humans as prey. Coyotes might let you get within 50 feet if you're lucky.

On very rare occasions, mountain lions do attack people. However, this is almost always where civilization has encroached on their range, and where they have gotten at least partially used to humans. Mountain lion attacks do happen in the hills around Los Angeles, for example. It's not going to happen in the Nevada back country where the cat has its natural prey and a fear of humans.

I consider myself very lucky to have seen a mountain lion in the wild twice, even though each time was just a few seconds. But, I've spent many days in the deserts and other wild places of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

It's funny that the you didn't even mention the most relevant two dangers at all, which are dehydration and hypothermia.

Not only bring water, but something to replenish electrolytes. I use Gatorade powder, but there are lots of strategies. This has been discussed a lot here, so I won't repeat it. Go do a search.

You might think hypothermia is a silly thing to worry about in the hot desert, but it's more likely than anything you mentioned. If you're at high enough elevation, all it can take is a thunderstorm (often accompanied by hail) and wind. If all you've got is a wet cotton shirt, you can be in trouble in moderate temperatures and wind.

Even worse, if something happens so that you end up spending a night out, hypothermia is a real concern. Nights can be surprisingly cold in the desert, especially at elevated altitude. Clear sky allows for lots of radiational cooling. Couple that with a thunderstorm, some wind, and you can be in serious trouble with just a cotton T shirt.

As for finding gold nuggets under rocks: Not gonna happen. It doesn't work that way. I'm not even going to bother explain this one.

You should also think about permission and impact on the environment. Rolling over a few rocks by the side of the trail is probably OK in most places. However, going off trail and re-arranging the landscape may not be. Prospecting for gold may require a permit. Actually removing gold may be illegal, although this is mute since you're not going to find any.

  • Dehydration, risk of desert conditions and the car breaking down are indeed risks that are more likely. I'm just more used to thinking about that stuff since I live in Nevada. But I haven't started messing around with rocks and plants in the desert yet so I haven't had to deal with poisonous animals yet. A lot of good stuff to think about. TY @Olin – Michael d May 18 '18 at 13:44
  • As I was told in my NOLS WFR course, there is only one scorpion species in the US that may be fatal to (non-infant/child) humans. Centered on Arizona, it can be found from New Mexico to California, including Nevada, but it will depend on just where the OP is wandering around. In my years of hiking in the Southwest, I can't recall seeing a scorpion, but I'm not usually looking under rocks for them. – Jon Custer May 18 '18 at 16:30
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    @Michaeld You are going to dig holes and mess around with plants. Have you heard of "leave no trace". This is not your land. That may not be allowed. – paparazzo May 18 '18 at 17:06
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Last summer I did a yo-yo of both the Toyaibe Crest and the Ruby mountains while also summitting both Mt Wheeler and Boundary Peak.

The mountains aren’t particularly dangerous, other than the big summits I did there really wasn’t any times where I was particularly concerned.

  • Snakes are less of a concern in the alpine areas and the other wild animals get hunted enough to make them wary.

  • Watch out for livestock, because its remote they have less experience with people and that makes them more dangerous.

  • Because it’s a desert you have to worry about running out of water.

  • Humans are far more dangerous than any wild animal and most of Nevada is really remote.

All of that said, I wouldn’t worry too much, just be careful and start out slow. Be careful pulling over rocks since critters can underneath them and stay out of the abandoned mines.

You’re going to die regardless of whether you go or not, so don’t let the risks of what might happen keep you from never going hiking at all.

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