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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Life-or-Death Decisions - Caught in a Storm

When a storm comes out of nowhere, learn how to handle the unexpected.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

(Illustration by Supercorn)
(Illustration by Supercorn)

3. Reading the weather
WRONG: Ignore those clouds building on the horizon–the summit is just an hour away!
RIGHT: Watch for thick, dark, anvil-shaped clouds. If bad weather seems to be blowing in, stop and do a "pre-mortem": If a storm obscures visibility, will you be able to find your way back down? Will you be exposed to lightning? Keep track of warning signs, such as dropping temperatures and increased winds, and use them to convince summit-fevered partners to turn back.

How to spot a coming storm
A. Altostratus: These high, gray clouds often cover the entire sky and indicate prolonged rain or snow is on the way.
B. Nimbostratus: These low, thick, gray clouds block most sunlight and usually bring steady, light- to medium- intensity rain or snow.
C. Cumulonimbus: These towering, anvil-shaped clouds can produce lightning, snow, heavy rain, and hail.

4. Deciding to stay or go
WRONG: Strike out blindly into the storm, trying to feel your way to safety in a whiteout–you have to get outta there, no matter what!
RIGHT: "If the weather's so bad that you can't see the trail, you should wait it out," says Brown. Mark your location on your map or GPS, put on extra layers, then find or build shelter.

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Reader Rating: -


Delta Zen
Aug 23, 2013

What a dumb story - is it from Readers Digest?
Typical new BM - I've been laughing about it since 2008 when it came out. Story starts "what began as an October dayhike", that October as in Fall. How ridiculous then that the first WRONG scenario starts with "packed basic summer gear" or something like that.
Fall is not Summer.

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Mar 18, 2012

Good everyday common sense article that new Hikers should memorize and from what I have seen, old experienced hikers too.

One suggestion if I may so add. I would NOT advise setting up an emergency camp under a Needle bearing Tree or build a fire under one for longer than an half an hour or so. The heat will melt the snow sitting on the branches above you which might just slide off and land on your fire and or on you. For a Gear suggestion, I have carried one of those Sportsman's Blankets with a nuetural green on one side and reflective Aluminum on the other since they were introduced, which I used more often than a tarp, in fact I stopped carrying a Tarp all together. Also one of the new Emergency Sleeping Bags that comes in the Orange sack and is reuseable on all my Dayhikes..
I also carry a Knit Hat to replace the Ball cap most of us wear. The Knit Hat is a lot warmer and conserves all that heat coming off your head.

Mar 17, 2012

nice article, however,it's just common sense that fills this article

Mar 16, 2012

Very good, common sense advice. Keep up the good work.

Tanner Lowe
Mar 19, 2010

I have very much enjoyed your articles on surviving a variety of situations. However, I have not heard or found any articles on edible plants and could sustain life in the wilderness and being able to differentiate them from the inedible. Another article that could be very beneficial would be learning about medicinal plants.


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