No one said the backcountry was safe. The deeper you go, the more cautious you have to be about bears, cougars, sudden foul weather and trip wires connected to 20-pound spiked boulders that swing down at you from the tree tops.
That last one leave you scratching your head? It should. Despite heavy media coverage of the two idiots who set booby traps along a well-used trail in Utah last month, human-targeting traps remain scarce in the North American backcountry. Even the bomb expert who found and dismantled the crude Utah setup commented on how rare these traps are in the developed world.
“It was just so out of place and so odd,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ve seen devices and booby traps all over the world, but I never thought I’d see one in Provo, Utah.”
Other news agencies quoted police officers saying that such booby traps are sometimes found in the backcountry to protect marijuana growing operations. I’ve always found these statements puzzling.
Every year on Vancouver Island police yank thousands of pot plants out of the bush. While working on a news story about these annual busts, one officer told me that clamping down on the illicit pot farms helped to protect people who spent time in the backcountry. Fewer dope growers meant fewer booby traps by criminals desperate to protect their crops.
Yet how many people have ever been hurt by these traps in the decades that backcountry pot farming has been taking place? None. Setting traps on even seldom-used trails could bring unwanted attention to the dope growers, whereas most hikers would probably just walk past the illicit crop without even knowing that pot fields lay hidden in the bushes nearby.
I’m not saying Vancouver Island is entirely free of booby traps. Perhaps there really are a few out there, buried somewhere deep in the vast wilderness. But trekkers should focus on more likely dangers – getting lost, encountering wildlife, injury – rather than worrying about stumbling onto a trip wire and having to dodge arrows or out run a giant boulder. Don’t let the isolated Utah incident get into your head.
But if you’re searching for a Crystal Skull, well, you should probably disregard everything I’ve said. Just to be safe.