In writing about drinking from the mountain spring yesterday, I wondered if I might receive comments from readers suggesting that this is not a safe or recommended practice. Fortunately, I did not. However, I would like to take a moment to discuss drinking water in the mountains further. Yes, I do drink from mountain springs, as do my husband and son. We do our best to locate clean sources, like springs just surfacing, or melt off creeks close to their starting place high up around tree line. Sources we consider reasonably safe. How lucky we are to know where so much of our water comes from, being so near to the top of the mountains.
Chances are very good we do have our share of “bugs,” and chances are good after all this time we also have quite a bit of immunity from being exposed on a regular basis. I’m not going to claim “bugs” are a good thing. They are a common occurrence throughout the world, and if left untreated or in large doses, I would guess tainted water has killed more people than wars throughout history. But there is a big difference between “tainted” and “sterile.” Our more modern world prefers to come enjoy the mountains, yet still fears the very water that runs from her hillsides. The pure and sterile environment we live in back home we take with us to the wilds.
For safety sake, of course I will recommend to purify any water before you drink it. However think about this scenario: A few years back I heard a tale of a couple of backpackers, folks from town who came to enjoy a mountain adventure. They had been out in the Wilderness for several days, and ran out of water purification tablets. Rather than find a probably untainted water source, or even risk giardia from a questionable source, they stoically refused to drink and found their way out of the Wilderness where they came upon a neighbor’s ranch, exhausted and dehydrated, with parched lips and taught skin, and practically begged for water. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty certain you can treat a mild case of giardia. It is not a fun disease, but it can be treated. Dehydration, exacerbated by the high mountains and the intense Colorado sunshine, can kill you.
As much as I love the mountain and believe in her unprecedented goodness, I do believe she is indifferent. Just as she will not reach out to strike me down, the mountain will not reach out to save me. However, she will support me in saving myself. Everything I need, she will allow me to take. Including answers, if I ask the right questions. I must know how to take care of myself out here. And although we may not be born with this knowledge, and nor can we realistically head out there with every single skill under our belt, there is so much we can do to prepare ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally for the unplanned and unexpected by relying on our own forethought, basic preparations, and common sense.
In conclusion… a practical discussion on water purification means and ways in the Wilderness. I always used to recommend and rely on Iodine pills – they were light, easy to use, easy to pack (though can’t say they tasted very swell, so don’t forget the Tang or Country Time). However I read recently that they may not be effective in eliminating all traces of giardia from water. Does any one know more about this? I tell you what looks slick – I’ve seen water bottles, perhaps a liter in size, with built in water purifying system. I don’t know how they work, I have not used one, but I like the idea. With these, everyone is responsible for their own safe drinking water, and it takes up no more room or weight than the bottle you’d be carrying anyway. For our guests in camp, we have to treat all water before cooking, cleaning and drinking. In large quantities like this, the easiest way is to boil the water. Since I probably have a campfire going anyway, I can keep pots of water on my cooking rack at all times, and once boiled, I can move the “safe” water to the side. The other method that’s worked great for us in camp is the Katadyn handing gravity flow filter bags. Fill them up the night before, let them slowly drip into a clean water jug throughout the night, and there is plenty of good, fresh, safe drinking water the following morning. I wouldn’t want to pack one of these in my backpack, but I’m a horse packer, not a back packer. The small, portable water pumps work better for the backpacker, yet I have not had good luck with them For the quantity of water I do, they take a long time and the moving parts have not held up to my heavy use.