We were hiking a popular 3-8 day trail. A group of women was hiking approximately the same route and schedule as us. The apparent leader of the group, who we would soon dub “Bad Advice Girl”, was loud, and did a lot of lecturing. It was impossible not to overhear. We had questions about her competence, her gear choices seemed impractical, she was using enough Kinesio tape on her skin that she resembled an Orca (this is not a weight comment, she just had more than 50% of her skin covered in black shiny tape), and then there was the bad advice she loudly offered to her group.
My Water Bottle is Mouldy!
One of the women in her group wanted some soap and a cleaning cloth to clean out the smelly, green mould in her water bottle. This seemed like a reasonable and prudent idea to me, but not to Bad Advice Girl. (It also might seem reasonable that this type of pre-inspection/washing of equipment may have been better suited to her home while she was packing rather than while she was on trail.)
Bad Advice Girl emphatically replied: “Once, my fridge broke down and I ate the mouldy food from it, I was fine. The mould from foods and drinks is harmless. Just drink from your bottle!”
Now, I am not an expert on human pathogens, but this advice goes against pretty much all of the things I’ve read regarding food safety.
Water treatment tablets are intended to kill pathogens in water taken from wild sources like creeks and rivers. Though there are those who will drink from surface water in the mountains (especially if they can see the source glacier), there are mammals that live in those mountains, so there is definitely the possibility of pathogens in the water. Unless Beaver Fever sounds appealing, then treating the water is a good idea.
One of the women was discussing how she was waiting the 15 minutes specified in the tablet instructions. Once again, Bad Advice Girl had a “pro-tip”. “Just take the tablet like a pill!” she advised, “then make sure you drink the full litre of water and the tablet will treat the water in your stomach!”
Once again, I’m pretty certain that if this was the approved method, it would be listed in the instructions. Also, what if I’m not that thirsty? Maybe I should just swallow a bunch of tablets before I go based on how much water I intend to drink, like a vaccine.*
*this is not how vaccines or water treatment tablets work, you would almost certainly die from this.
The Dreaded Backcountry Food Thieves
We only heard the woman from Bad Advice Girl’s group crying from her tent, “You told me that if I put my food in the bear locker, people would steal it!” The voice continued, “Now, a marmot ate through my tent AND my food bag AND all my food is ruined and there is marmot [poop] all over my tent!” “You owe me $200 for a new tent!” she continued, “Now I have to leave and it’s all your fault!”
Bears, mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, martens, fishers, weasels, crows, ravens, jays, and many more animals are perfectly willing to take an easy meal when it is offered. The bear lockers are intended to protect food from scavenging by animals (including, but not LIMITED to bears), and food in a tent is pretty similar to a free buffet for opportunistic critters.
Backpackers, on the other hand, nearly always have enough food. They might leave extra food in the bear locker to avoid carrying it out (NOT ADVISED OR CONDONED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM – PACK EVERYTHING OUT – LEAVE NO TRACE). They might sneak an extra meal into someone else’s food bag, but I have never heard of any hiker on a major trail stealing food. (protect your beer though!)
The Friends Leave
I saw one of the group members leaving, she was hiking down the trail in tears. Presumably because her hike was cut short by marmots eating her food. I also heard Bad Advice Girl complaining that her friends had left. Her only direct interaction with us (if you know me, you know I’m chatty) was to complain about the “crappy” sights on a very scenic (world famous) trail.
I have deliberately chosen not to mention which trail, or other identifying information, lest Bad Advice Girl finds out we’re talking about HER.
Surprisingly, I feel a great deal of gratitude toward Bad Advice Girl. First, the advice she gave is priceless… comedic material. I was ready to speak up about the potentially catastrophic water treatment tablet consumption, but the group seemed very clear on that one and didn’t follow the Bad Advice Girl’s Bad Advice.
I’m also grateful for the lesson. Though I don’t make up ridiculous claims, I like the sound of my own voice, and every time I have a tip, I try to keep it in context so that it does not stray into the realm of bad advice.
Thank you, Bad Advice Girl, we’ll never forget you.