Explore Off-trail Match Longs Peak’s contour lines with the features in the photo (answers at the bottom of page). Also, visit backpacker.com/navigation101 for a routefinding tutorial.
Ford a Stream
Uh-oh: The anemic creek described in the guidebook has swollen to a robust river. If the water is below your butt and not churning with rapids, scout a wide (slower-moving) section; avoid deeper, faster river bends. As you cross, face upstream, but angle downstream. Use a pole and sidestep across for extra stability. Keep your boots and pack on, but remove your socks and unbuckle your hipbelt and sternum strap in case of a fall. Contributing editor Tracy Ross learned this the hard way in 1998, while wading the McKinley River, in Denali NP, with a 60-pound pack. “Suddenly, I’m being dragged backward down the McKinley,” she recalls, “heading for a swift, deep bend that was going to suck me under.” Ross fought to undo her buckles, and when she finally succeeded, she “exploded out of the water.”
snowfields Go in the early a.m. to avoid postholing. Kick your toe into the slope, swinging your lower leg for momentum and creating a half-foot-deep platform. Switchbacking is more efficient, unless the boot-kicking is difficult (like with hardpack); then just beeline. Plunge-step down. Beware of avalanche risk on 25-plus-degree slopes—a change from the past 30-degree warning.
Hike a Slot Check the watershed’s forecast at weather.gov and water.usgs.gov/waterwatch. Recent rains saturate soil and fill reservoirs, raising flood risk. Mark exits or highpoints on the map, and note water lines or debris on the canyon walls, which signals flood areas. If a creek starts running faster, deeper, or muddier, get to high ground ASAP.
Routefinding answers: 1. B. Summits from concentric circles (innermost is the highest). 2. C. Ridges; contour lines form Vs. 3. A. Gullies; lines form inverted Vs. 4. D. Pass; an hourglass with the "waist" sides lower than the two other sides. 5. E. Cliffs; lines almost touch.