Avalanche dangers Snow dangers Winter backpacking Winter camping

Winter Backpacking Dangers

A few things that make winter backpacking dangerous

Snow camping and winter backpacking are great ways to experience the wilderness. In fact, nothing is as beautiful and enchanting as the wilderness in winter. But if you are new to the idea, here are a few reasons you shouldn’t just head out alone or unprepared. Be aware of the risks and take appropriate precautions. Below is a short beginner’s list of basic hazards and concerns that every winter backpacker should know.

  • Avalanches. Learn about avalanche dangers and then always check the avalanche forecast in your area before heading out. This is not something that can be fully learned in an afternoon or even in a few days of training.
avalanche danger
It takes time to learn about avalanche dangers, avi-gear, and precautions to take.
  • Snow conceals lethal dangers such as tree wells, rapidly moving streams, and deep crevasses that you can fall in, as well as heavy cornices that can collapse below you or bury you.
hidden dangers in the snow
A snowshoer uses an 8ft avalanche probe to search for the bottom of a hole in the snow. Moments earlier he suddenly found himself in this hole. He had fallen through the snow after several other hikers crossed the same spot with no trouble. Fortunately, he was able to suspend himself with his arms and gradually gain enough traction on the sides of the hole to force himself out. The snow had concealed a stream. The possibility of being washed away under deep snow in a cold stream is not something one wants to contemplate.
  • Winter weather—cold temperatures, reflected UV light, and wind conditions can create special hazards that require specific types of gear. In cold and snowy conditions you are at greater risk of hypothermia, frostbite, snow blindness, and snow immersion suffocation.
  • Navigation is more challenging. Trails, trail signs, and familiar landmarks are covered in snow increasing the risks of getting lost. Snow and clouds can create whiteouts obscuring directions.
winter navigation challenges
You can’t always count on the forecast to deliver on promises of clear weather. The mountains have their own ways of generating unexpected conditions. Your earlier footsteps can be quickly erased.
  • Help can be a long time coming. Depending on where you are, there are fewer people in the wilderness to find you or help you if something goes wrong. There is often no phone reception and even if you carry an emergency device a mountain rescue can take anywhere from 6 hours to several days depending on circumstances, location, and weather conditions.

Be sure to read my beginner’s safety tips list too.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I’ll be updating this post periodically.

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