Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Info on gear, conditioning, and preparation for hiking/climbing.
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daway8
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Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by daway8 » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:30 pm

After highlighting the elevated dangers present this year due to an even weaker than normal snowpack (see https://www.14ers.com/forum/viewtopic.p ... 99#p731899 if you missed that one) I thought it would be good to also highlight some things that can help people to still safely enjoy the backcountry – especially for those who are new to winter summiting. Yes, there have been similar threads before but this seems like a good year to refresh/update).

I’m by no means an expert but here a few simplified basics to get you started:

1. Beware of slope angle. On the 14ers map the red/yellow indicate slopes from 27-45 degrees. Safest bet is don’t go across or below these slopes (you can also get this data on CalTopo, GAIA, etc).

2. Ridges are your friend. How do you avoid the red/yellow? Easiest way is take a ridge route.

3. CAIC – know the avy forecast. Bookmark this page and/or download the app. Tells the avalanche danger for each zone. Click on the zone for more information. https://www.avalanche.state.co.us/ The higher the danger the greater the reason to either stay home or stay far away from that red/yellow.

4. Layers are your friends. Have multiple layers of jackets/gloves/etc to add/subtract as you get in/out of wind/sun/etc.

5. Storms are your enemy. Incoming storms are often preceded by VERY strong winds even a day or so in advance. Also, storms often arrive early and whiteouts are serious business on a 14er/13er. Don’t do a long/challenging hike (if any) right before a storm. Hiking during/right after a storm puts you in very high avalanche danger.

6. Study your route. Winter is not a good time to wing it. “Easy” summer routes can be deadly in winter. Make use of the many trip reports, conditions reports, forum entries, etc. Some other great resource sites are http://graysoncobb.com/winter-14ers-best-beginners/ (some of the easiest winter 14ers); https://www.summitpost.org/colorado-14e ... ter/337648 (lists winter info on all the 14ers)

7. GPS makes life easier. Download GAIA or some other app on your phone that allows you to load .gpx files from this site. Then you can always see your current location with respect to where the trail is. Makes it real easy to get back on track when snow obscures the trail (but beware of relying on it exclusively).

8. Redundant navigation options. Relying only on your phone for navigation? Seriously consider some backup options (printed map, alternate electronic device, extra battery, etc).

9. Get the gear. Microspikes are very useful for icy trails. Snowshoes really come in handy once the snow builds up (often not needed early in the season). Gaiters really help keep your feet dry. Goggles can save your eyes from sun reflecting off the snow and wind blasting snow in your face. Crampons/ice axe come into play on more serious terrain. (Plenty more could be added here…)

10. Get some snow/avy education. REI offers classes; or try CMS classes such as: https://coloradomountainschool.com/prod ... ss-clinic/ A short book with lots of good basics is Snow Sense by Jill Fedston and Doug Fesler. Some free online education resources are: https://avalanche.org/avalanche-education/ and Know Before You Go https://kbyg.org/

There’s a ton more that can be added to this post but I wanted to start with a simple list of 10 basics (please note some of these are simplifications to provide a basic starting point). Others can feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Let’s try to help everyone stay safe in a year with heavier than normal backcountry usage and weaker than normal snowpack.
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cottonmountaineering
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by cottonmountaineering » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:36 pm

thanks for sharing, my only addition is to wear a buff :)
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CaptCO
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by CaptCO » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:38 pm

cottonmountaineering wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:36 pm
thanks for sharing, my only addition is to wear a buff :)
Yeah you guys wouldn’t wanna mess up that soft, precious, wrinkle-free skin would you?!
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peter303
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by peter303 » Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:23 am

There are avalanche awareness videos online to teach these good tips and show nifty avy videos.

Pre-covid REI used run various versions of these seminars. I'd attend occasionally to see latest new gear and hear new ideas.

These awareness videos are best for learning to avoid danger areas. If you want to travel near an avy area you should follow up with with a field course where you perform actual evaluation and rescue techniques.
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Squirrellysquirrel
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by Squirrellysquirrel » Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:28 am

Nice!

This is also a quick guide... gives some additional perspective, kinda more specific to avalanche safety, it’s a free online course: Know before you go

https://kbyg.org/

Nothing beats an in-person class or more with agencies like AIARE:

https://avtraining.org/
"The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus." ~ Bruce Lee
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Squirrellysquirrel
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by Squirrellysquirrel » Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:31 am

peter303 wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:23 am

These awareness videos are best for learning to avoid danger areas. If you want to travel near an avy area you should follow up with with a field course where you perform actual evaluation and rescue techniques.
Yes. Avoidance of danger areas is key, as is self-reliance and preparedness, learn about snowback and how to analyze for safe conditions.
"The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus." ~ Bruce Lee
TomPierce
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by TomPierce » Wed Dec 23, 2020 10:15 am

I've dialed back my posting here, but thought I'd supplement Daway's post with a few winter lessons I've learned over the years. I've seen the aftermath of fatal climbing accidents, let's try to limit those, no?

In no particular order:

-Don't stake your life on a CAIC forecast: CAIC forecasts are big picture forecasts for entire mountain ranges. They are not meant to assure you that crossing slope X will necessarily be OK. If it's steep enough to slide and has a poor runnout, e.g. a terrain trap at the bottom, you'd better really think through a go/no-go decision. I'd probably vote for a detour to a safer route, e.g. a wind blasted ridge line. I use CAIC forecasts for big picture decisions, e.g. I have a few winter climbs of interest in the Longs Peak cirque, but they require crossing a historically problematic slope. Eh, I'll pass for now based on the current snowpack. Maybe later in the spring, or a different year altogether. But crossing a slope even when it's CAIC green/yellow? My radar is still at full strength.

-GPS: I'm a big fan of GPS, use it all the time. But in winter, eh...not so much. The power drain caused by always-on winter use is phenomenal (Apple batteries are notoriously bad in winter), and if you use a waypoint method (my typical practice in summer), the booting up process and fiddling with the screens is super tedious in winter. Consider a lower tech alternative: have a few key points memorized or written down with simple compass bearings, e.g. "from Cupid to the Loveland exit it's X degrees." Simple, foolproof, takes a few seconds, no batteries. Leave the GPS in the pack/pocket for the "I have no f'ing idea where we are..." situations, e.g. whiteouts, etc.

-Gear: Make sure your flotation is in good order, without it you're sunk (pun intended). Trying to wallow out miles from your car on a winter night could have tragic consequences. I've had ski bindings fail, ugh, and my snowshoe bindings are a bit sketchy now. Oops, my bad, but at least I'm aware. Always have a spare pair of kick ass mittens; you can climb on frostbitten toes (been there, done that), you can't climb very well with frozen fingers. Go heavy on eyewear; I've had snowblindness, no fun. But you also can't avoid what you can't see, get some good winter goggles. And get a real winter worthy headlamp. Your summer headlamp may not cut it, I'd bet probably not. Carry at least some bivy gear. SOL makes a good, light bivy sack; with a foam butt pad you should survive an overnight bivy. Personally I think that whole stove & sleeping bag approach is overkill. Focus on getting out, not sleeping out.

-Snowpack assessment: OK, here's some heresy. I think digging pits, etc. is interesting, but would I stake my life on the results? No, because I'm a climber, not a skier. I don't need to go down steep, snowy slopes, I'm an avoidance guy. I love wind blasted, rocky terrain. My first rule of avalanche avoidance: You have to have snow to have a snowslide. I've always pondered the true usefulness of a pit and shovel shear test. The Colorado snowpack always has stronger/weaker layers, it's difficult to predict when they'll go or not simply with pressure on a shovel handle. Do it all you want, it's certainly educational, but understand the limits of the various tests.

Purely my opinions, be safe out there this winter.

-Tom
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by rdp32 » Wed Dec 23, 2020 11:03 am

TomPierce wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 10:15 am
I've dialed back my posting here, but thought I'd supplement Daway's post with a few winter lessons I've learned over the years. I've seen the aftermath of fatal climbing accidents, let's try to limit those, no?

In no particular order:

-Don't stake your life on a CAIC forecast: CAIC forecasts are big picture forecasts for entire mountain ranges. They are not meant to assure you that crossing slope X will necessarily be OK. If it's steep enough to slide and has a poor runnout, e.g. a terrain trap at the bottom, you'd better really think through a go/no-go decision. I'd probably vote for a detour to a safer route, e.g. a wind blasted ridge line. I use CAIC forecasts for big picture decisions, e.g. I have a few winter climbs of interest in the Longs Peak cirque, but they require crossing a historically problematic slope. Eh, I'll pass for now based on the current snowpack. Maybe later in the spring, or a different year altogether. But crossing a slope even when it's CAIC green/yellow? My radar is still at full strength.

-GPS: I'm a big fan of GPS, use it all the time. But in winter, eh...not so much. The power drain caused by always-on winter use is phenomenal (Apple batteries are notoriously bad in winter), and if you use a waypoint method (my typical practice in summer), the booting up process and fiddling with the screens is super tedious in winter. Consider a lower tech alternative: have a few key points memorized or written down with simple compass bearings, e.g. "from Cupid to the Loveland exit it's X degrees." Simple, foolproof, takes a few seconds, no batteries. Leave the GPS in the pack/pocket for the "I have no f'ing idea where we are..." situations, e.g. whiteouts, etc.

-Gear: Make sure your flotation is in good order, without it you're sunk (pun intended). Trying to wallow out miles from your car on a winter night could have tragic consequences. I've had ski bindings fail, ugh, and my snowshoe bindings are a bit sketchy now. Oops, my bad, but at least I'm aware. Always have a spare pair of kick ass mittens; you can climb on frostbitten toes (been there, done that), you can't climb very well with frozen fingers. Go heavy on eyewear; I've had snowblindness, no fun. But you also can't avoid what you can't see, get some good winter goggles. And get a real winter worthy headlamp. Your summer headlamp may not cut it, I'd bet probably not. Carry at least some bivy gear. SOL makes a good, light bivy sack; with a foam butt pad you should survive an overnight bivy. Personally I think that whole stove & sleeping bag approach is overkill. Focus on getting out, not sleeping out.

-Snowpack assessment: OK, here's some heresy. I think digging pits, etc. is interesting, but would I stake my life on the results? No, because I'm a climber, not a skier. I don't need to go down steep, snowy slopes, I'm an avoidance guy. I love wind blasted, rocky terrain. My first rule of avalanche avoidance: You have to have snow to have a snowslide. I've always pondered the true usefulness of a pit and shovel shear test. The Colorado snowpack always has stronger/weaker layers, it's difficult to predict when they'll go or not simply with pressure on a shovel handle. Do it all you want, it's certainly educational, but understand the limits of the various tests.

Purely my opinions, be safe out there this winter.

-Tom
Thanks for this info Tom!
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by headsizeburrito » Wed Dec 23, 2020 6:36 pm

TomPierce wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 10:15 am
Always have a spare pair of kick ass mittens; you can climb on frostbitten toes (been there, done that), you can't climb very well with frozen fingers. Go heavy on eyewear; I've had snowblindness, no fun. But you also can't avoid what you can't see, get some good winter goggles. And get a real winter worthy headlamp. Your summer headlamp may not cut it, I'd bet probably not.
I was considering adding backup gloves/mittens to my pack last week when I was getting nearly blown over on Decalibron and imaging a glove blowing away. Any particular glove/mitten setup you like? I'm thinking about how to balance something that packs small/light enough to be a backup rather than just a second primary, but obviously it still needs to be warm enough. Better eyewear is definitely on my list, I've been eyeing (heh) some fancy Julbos. Wondering where people draw the line between mountaineering style glasses and full goggles. Wind? What are your criteria for a winter headlamp?
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by d_baker » Wed Dec 23, 2020 6:40 pm

Get goggles if you plan winter high peaks hiking. Provides warmth and eye protection.
Get insulated mittens for backup/cold days.
I carry 2 pairs of mitts (fleeced lined shell and insulated warm mitt), and one pair of light gloves.

I don't do a lot/much winter peaks, but the above comment on mitts and goggles is what works for me.
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cottonmountaineering
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by cottonmountaineering » Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:03 pm

headsizeburrito wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 6:36 pm
TomPierce wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 10:15 am
Always have a spare pair of kick ass mittens; you can climb on frostbitten toes (been there, done that), you can't climb very well with frozen fingers. Go heavy on eyewear; I've had snowblindness, no fun. But you also can't avoid what you can't see, get some good winter goggles. And get a real winter worthy headlamp. Your summer headlamp may not cut it, I'd bet probably not.
I was considering adding backup gloves/mittens to my pack last week when I was getting nearly blown over on Decalibron and imaging a glove blowing away. Any particular glove/mitten setup you like? I'm thinking about how to balance something that packs small/light enough to be a backup rather than just a second primary, but obviously it still needs to be warm enough. Better eyewear is definitely on my list, I've been eyeing (heh) some fancy Julbos. Wondering where people draw the line between mountaineering style glasses and full goggles. Wind? What are your criteria for a winter headlamp?
i like hestras, great idiot straps, nice leather, warm
Lioness
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Re: Winter Hiking Safety Tips

Post by Lioness » Wed Dec 23, 2020 7:18 pm

daway8 wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:30 pm
After highlighting the elevated dangers present this year due to an even weaker than normal snowpack (see
I love winter 14ers. It is much more of a technical, mental, physical and spiritual journey.

What you don't know or don't have can kill you.

There are too many tips to mention from how to lace your boots to pit zips.



I've also made some my worst decisions in winter.
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