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Backpacker Magazine – Fall/Winter Gear Guide 2012

Winter Survival Guide: Navigate

Especially in winter, getting there is half the battle. Find your way through the white with these tips.

by: Kristin Bjornsen

Avalanche terrain hazards and safety (Supercorn)
Photo by Avalanche terrain hazards and safety (Supercorn)
Avalanche terrain hazards and safety (Supercorn)

Plan Your Path
Learn to find the safest terrain and most efficient travel line with these pointers from SP Parker, professional mountain guide and owner of the Sierra Mountain Center’s mountaineering school.

1. Avoid traveling on or below 30- to 45-degree slopes—prime avalanche terrain. Bring a slope index to convert map contour lines to a precise angle.
2. Dense slabs and loose pillows of wind-deposited snow can build up on lee slopes. Slabs increase avalanche risk and pillows can make travel difficult.
3. Cornices often break at a 45-degree angle, so you don’t need to be standing directly on one to be swept away by it. Also, avoid traveling beneath them.
4. Windward ridges often have less snow, making them easier travel paths.
5. Tree-covered areas on gentle angles are safer; the trees help anchor snowpack.
6. Avoid traveling over ice near inlets and outlets where moving water prevents thick frozen layers from forming.
7. Rocks absorb solar radiation, which makes nearby snow shallower than the surrounding snowpack—prone to postholing and an avalanche trigger.
8. Solidly frozen lakes can be safe. Probe ice with a pole to ensure it’s at least two inches thick. Keep 100 feet between people. 

Rise Before Shine
“If temperatures are hovering near or above freezing and you’re planning approaches on south- or east-facing slopes, consider starting predawn. There will be less potential for rockfall from thawing slopes above, and the snow surface will be more solid while it’s still frozen.”
Andrew Matranga, BACKPACKER Map Editor

Listen Up
“Turn off your iPod and smartphone, since they interfere dangerously with avalanche beacon signals. Music or calls may also keep you from hearing the biggest sign of avy danger—a whumph sound made by a snowpack layer collapsing.”
Jonathan Shefftz, National Ski Patrol avalanche instructor

Sidestep Snow Traps
“Especially on faster-paced descents, watch for signs of
obstacles under the snow, such as a protruding branch or
surface undulations from boulders. Your snowshoe could punch through a hollow spot, and you could twist a knee.”
SP Parker




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Dec 24, 2013

When snow cover causes you to lose sight of the trail and landmarks, stay found by using a compass and reading Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart. (Amazon). This book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Before you hit the trail, be sure to calibrate your compass to the declination of where you will be hiking or skiing. Go to: http://magnetic-declination.com. A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it. Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart". The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking and camping. Learn to stay found day or night by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Dec 24, 2013

When snow cover causes you to lose sight of the trail and landmarks, stay found by using a compass and reading Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart. (Amazon). This book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Before you hit the trail, be sure to calibrate your compass to the declination of where you will be hiking or skiing. Go to: http://magnetic-declination.com. A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it. Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart". The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking and camping. Learn to stay found day or night by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.

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