A sprained ankle forced us to skip our hike this week. Still, we thought it would be a good idea to map out some of the things that were on our mind as the winter hiking and snowshoeing season begins. Drawing on lessons learned last year, we've put together the following tips.
1. Always bring your gear. Even if you don’t plan on much snow, even if the day is perfect and sunny, even if you are only planning on going two miles, throw all your gear into the car. In fact, just leave your snowshoes in the car for the season. Weather changes quickly and you never know the conditions on the trail. It is best to bring everything you’ve got to the trailhead and make a decision from there. You can always leave things in the car.
2. Check the weather. Just before you leave, double check the weather conditions in the area you are going to. Knowing what’s happening right now might cause you to choose a different hike and you’ll save a lot of time going directly to your revised destination.
3. Check the avalanche report. Unless you’re positive that there is no chance of an avalanche along you’re hiking route, you need to take the time to check the avalanche conditions. Get in the habit of checking the report for each hike you take. The local ranger station is a good place to start.
4. Make sure the trail is flagged or bring a GPS. Snow can make things extremely confusing. Make sure the route you’ve chosen is tagged or flagged in some way or check to see if it’s been recently groomed. Generally, if it’s not a popular snowshoe route, it’s unlikely to be marked. For those hikes, bring along your GPS. It’s very easy to get turned around and lost when the snow makes everything look like the trail. We had this happen to us around Melakwa Lake last year.
5. Have a backup plan. Winter weather can cause all sorts of problems that might bar access to your trailhead. Storms can wash out roads, winds can topple trees, and snows can be so deep as to make a road impassable. Any or all of these might prompt a road closure. Having a backup hike in mind saves a lot of time and keeps the frustration levels to a minimum.
6. Bring your emergency gear. It almost goes without saying, but bring your hand warmers, emergency blankets, whistles and extra food. Weather really does change extremely quickly, going from pleasant to blizzard in the span of an hour. Couple that with the ease of losing the trail and wandering through snowbound forests, and you’ve got a recipe for a scary situation. So even if you’re doing a short snowshoe just a few miles from civilization, bring the gear anyway.
7. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. This is a good way to make sure that if something happens someone knows where to look for you. Cell phones don’t always work and this can be made worse by weather.
8. Hike smart: if the weather changes or conditions worse beyond what you are prepared for, turn around. No matter how close you are to your goal, avoid the temptation to press on, your goal will still be there to try for again another time. We probably should have done this on East Tiger Mountain.
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