So you read our blog about snowshoeing and climbing a 14er this winter. You’ve bought your gear, prepared your pack with supplies, consulted experienced hikers and snowshoers and gotten the scoop on where to go and how to have the best trip. You’ve gotten your waterproof and tearproof sign printed by Terra Slate so you can document the accomplishment of summiting a 14er in the winter and the memories made on a snowshoeing trip.
One last thing before you go: Let’s talk about the basics of avalanche safety.
Check the Weather Before You Go
Not only do you need to pay attention to road conditions so that you can get to your destination, but you also should keep an eye on the weather up on the mountain. Those who have been mountaineering for awhile know how much the weather can change quickly up on the mountain at several thousand feet up. Before you go, check with the local authorities, if an ascent or snowshoe hike should even be attempted.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
As you hike, be sure to keep an eye on the weather. As stated before, weather can change quickly at high altitudes; if stormy clouds start to move in, it may be best to abort your climb. Also, a sure way to avoid an avalanche is to not go hiking right after a storm in areas prone to avalanches. Storms can disturb areas that were previously stable. If the area that you would like to hike has recently been hit by a storm, you should wait at least 48 hours before attempting the climb.
Avoid Steep Paths
Steep areas are more prone to avalanches because the same amount of snow is stacked on top of itself as another area, but the difference is that because there is less surface area under the snow, the snow is less stable. If the slope you wish to traverse has a pitch greater than 25 degrees, it is best to avoid these areas. Use a inclinometer to ascertain the pitch. Traverse a slope at it’s highest point.
Avoid Danger Zones
Also, avoid areas that tend to have less trees and vegetation. These are tell-tale signs that avalanches frequently come through. Snow areas with a concave shape tend to be more stable because it is supported by other snow or physical features of the mountain. Also, be sure to test a snowy area with your shoe or similar object, before you actually begin to walk on it. If an area is tested and there is a hollow sound, find another path.
Bring The Right Gear
Not only should you make sure to have the right general hiking equipment in your pack, but you should also have gear specific to avalanches with you before you set off on your adventure. If you are going in a group, everyone should have their own supplies. What you need is a shovel to dig yourself and others out if you encounter an avalanche, a rescue beacon to wear on your clothing (be sure to test it before), and avalanche probes to help find those who get buried.
An avalanche cord can also be helpful: If caught in an avalanche hold on to one end. The other end should stay above the snow so you can find your way back to the surface.
If You Get Caught in an Avalanche
As with an emergency situation it is always best to be prepared beforehand then just react when an event occurs. Visualize an escape route. Groups of trees and rock outcroppings can be places of potential safety in the event of an avalanche. If you get caught and you don’t have time to escape, swim with the avalanche and try the best you can to keep your head above the surface. Not only is it the pertinent to your safety during the avalanche, but also after. If you don’t try to keep yourself near the surface, you may end up many feet below the surface after the avalanche slows, and with a high chance of suffocation.
As soon as the avalanche stops, clear the snow from around your face and if you ended up under the snow, spit and see which direction it drips: this will show you which way is down, for your spit will flow with gravity.
Avalanches are serious dangers during the winter. Remember it’s always best to be safe than sorry.
Don’t forget to get your waterproof and tearproof paper sign by Terra Slate before you go!