Staying Safe While Hiking Those Wintry Mountains

January 4, 2019

Snow-covered peaks can provide you with some of the most stunning views of our world. Hikers who prefer a mountainous terrain experience exhilarating moments that can’t be found in any other sport. No matter the trail, patience and stamina are key. The trip can be tedious, but the payoff is normally worth the energy.

But even the most experienced hikers need caution when hiking a mountain in the dead of winter. Normal conditions are at their riskiest during this time, and many red flags can be missed due to snow coverage. Egos must be put aside in order to make safety priority. No one can outsmart mother nature!

In order to truly prepare for a wintry mountain hike, planning and gathering information is essential! There are a few crucial elements to consider before heading up to the summit with a tumbler full of coffee.

Befriend Your Local Meteorologist

Local weather stations will give you good baseline information about the weather conditions around the area of your hike. However, remember that this information normally only applies to the base of the mountain. The peak will be a very different story. In order to prepare for the temperature drop, check out websites like Mountain Forecast or the website for that particular summit. These can indicate temperatures at different elevations and allow you to know what to expect from base to peak.

Start checking the weather reports a week to two weeks before the planned hike. It will be easier to assess the amount of snowfall over a period of time and know approximately how many inches (or feet) of snow and ice to be ready for. This also will help a hiker know what gear to have on hand during the trek. As the conditions get harsher, the gear gets more intense! Keep an eye on wind speed and windchill as well. If the speed is consistent enough, save the trip for a less windy day.

Navigate, Navigate, Navigate!

Now that the weather has been checking and double checked, it’s time to move on to planning the trail. A GPS is a hiker’s best friend. Knowing at all times the exact location of the hiking crew will save lives. Snow will take over well-known trails and familiar landscape markings and cannot be relied on. The consistent gleam of white is known to play tricks on the eyes. What was once a beloved path can turn into a strange, unknown place very quickly.

If a GPS app on a phone is being used, remember to tuck it into a warm place to avoid unnecessary battery drainage. Additionally, have all devices charged to their fullest before beginning a hike. If at any time an emergency call needs to be placed, it’s so important to have a way to reach help quickly and efficiently. Many phone apps will allow users to send pin-drops for exact locations to be determined by the receiver. Take the time to research what applications work best for the hike.

Consider All Angles

Steep slopes are a pain even when a trail is completely clear. That pain becomes a serious danger when snow is added to the mix. Regardless of the gear, the potential to lose traction and slide into unknown territory is high. It also creates high levels of tension on the body which can add up over time if the trek is a particularly long one. The most dangerous part about slopes is that they can cause avalanches. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and stay away from heavy layers of snow piled on mountainsides. Avalanches happen quickly and have deadly consequences.

In order to assess slopes, there are handy dandy apps that can be downloaded for hikers of all levels. One such app is CapTopo, which will help determine degree levels of each part of the hike. There are also color-coded indications of degree levels which can help determine what areas to avoid completely. It is worth repeating that if an extra backup battery for electronic devices can be packed, do it. Many applications running on a phone to help with navigation will empty the battery before half of the trip is completed.

Keep A Hiking Buddy Handy

The best hikes can be ones of total seclusion. To get away and enjoy time alone is mandatory for many people. However, hiking a snowy mountain is not the ideal situation for that type of self-care. Never go out alone and try to hike a mountainside solo, especially one with random, falling chunks of ice. Take at least one buddy but preferably a crew of hikers. However, don’t forget that a crew is still isolated. Fellow hikers could be miles away.

Make sure that at least one (if not all) of your group is certified in CPR. In the case that anyone is injured or becomes ill, this could be life-saving. It’s also good information to have in general, basic life situations. Always pack extra food and canteens of water. If possible, carry along a travel stove and a small tent or insulated shelter. Packing for hiking in snow is usually harder than your regular travel gear to begin with. A crew can help with that if all take turns with the extra load.

Know Your Limit

Deciding to hike a snowy mountain is quite a venture. This activity is NOT for hikers who have not taken on snow before. Try a class with an experienced instructor who can really explain the elements and how best to handle them! These classes can be super fun, and other future snow adventurers in attendance could want to create a hiking team. One-on-one practice and studied safety precautions lead to a safe and glorious hike. Beginning with a flat, snowy hike is also recommended. Starting with only one added element will help to steadily build up experience, leaving that towering summit as the final goal.

Experienced hikers should still keep in mind that taking on this type of hike is not always encouraged. If the conditions are even slightly close to dangerous, reschedule without a second thought. It isn’t worth it. Start out the hike early in the morning. The snow begins to freeze as the sun sets. If a trail has any red flags, avoid it at all costs. It’s so important to keep all of these things in mind before the first step is taken toward the mountaintop. The journey should be a memorable and beautiful one. In the case of hiking snowy mountains in the wintertime, it’s best practice to be overprepared.