Preparing for Winter Winds

Pacific Northwest winter weather is mild with temperatures usually between 20 to 35ºF for most backpacking trips between 3,000 and 7,000 feet of elevation. However, during the winter months, wind speeds increase significantly and trip planning needs to include clothing for wind protection to prevent discomfort, hypothermia, and even frostbite.

There is a thin line of protection between being a happy winter camper and being miserable and at risk. Always plan your kit so that you are fully protected and never cold for any significant length of time.

winter winds average speeds in Washington State
If you are use to three-season backpacking, you may be unfamiliar with the increased wind speeds of winter. Planning for the cold is not enough. You need to factor in wind as well to be safe.

Wind Forecasts

When planning a trip, bear in mind that a forecast of 10–25mph wind can fail to represent wind speed in specific terrain conditions, such as the crest of ridges or narrow saddles and valleys, where the wind can increase significantly. The Mountain Forecast website provides wind speed data for select elevations.

intense mountain winds
The forecast (February 9, 2019) included 10–25mph winds, but on this ridge we had trouble walking, indicating that the wind speed was around 40mph. The temperatures were 7–10ºF at 5000ft, making the wind chill probably –15ºF. Without the right clothing, this would place us close to the edge of frostbite danger.

Continue reading “Preparing for Winter Winds”

Winter Backpacking Dangers

Heading out into the backcountry in winter can be an amazing experience, but it is not without risk. The purpose of this short post is to provide some links to help you understand the dangers.

A few things that make snow backpacking dangerous

Before you head out, be aware of the risks. Here are the most basic concerns:

      1. Avalanches. Check the avalanche forecast in your area before heading out.
      2. Snow conceals dangers such as tree wells, very deep holes with streams, and crevasses that you can fall in.
      3. In cold and snowy conditions you are at greater risk of hypothermia, frost bite, and snow immersion suffocation.
      4. Trails, trail signs, and familiar landmarks are covered in snow increasing the risks of getting lost.
      5. Depending on where you are, there are fewer people in the wilderness to find you or help you if something goes wrong.

Be sure to read my safety tips blog too.

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

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