Survival Question - Unprepared for Winter Storm

3:03 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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If you are in the backcountry and a major winter storm blows in, are you better to stay put during the storm or better to try to find your way back to the trail head if you find yourself unprepared?

By unprepared, I mean you don't have the right gear for the conditions.

4:36 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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I don't know the correct answer but here is what I would do. This will be good for me as well to see answers from the knowledge gods around here.

Scenario 1
Since it is winter, I have some warm clothes and all of my warm clothes wick / repel. I would assume to be unprepared in the sense that I do not have enough food to last being socked in for a few days nor do I have my sturdy winter tent, just my regular light weight.

If I am deep in 20+ miles I am going to trek as many comfortable miles as I can, pitch my tent extend my hiking sticks to the tent roof in the middle of the tent and hope for the best.

Day 2 assuming 2 feet of snow (this is a winter storm, right)

First, boil water and fill my water bottles tucking them inside my coat after drinking a bit to try to get the chill off. Pack up camp and have a seat, pull my boots off and warm the feet and boots with the hot water bottles. and set out hopeful to make the full distance back to civilization. If not repeat day 1 and 2.


Scenario 2
I was an idiot and went 20 miles into the backcountry totally unprepared with a winter storm coming. I have on tennis shoes and I am wearing a light Edie Bauer jacket. I assumed I could handle a 40 mile round trip in a day, boy was I wrong...Now its snowing like all get out and I realize I did not zip the hood onto my jacket. I take out my blackberry to phone a friend, damn, no signal and think to myself they really need to put a cell tower out here. Lucky for me I just watched an episode of bear grills so I find the nearest river grab a log and jump in so I can float to the nearest town. You know, water always flows into a town...eventually. Unfortunately when I went over the water fall I lost my log... they find me a few days later naked and frozen solid clutching my cell phone. evidently I burned my clothes trying to dry them over the fire I started by rubbing two sticks together. :)

4:44 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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Boy, that really depends on several factors -
1. How far from the trailhead are you?
2. How "unprepared" are you (if you are out on a winter's day tramping through the snow on skis or snowshoes anyway, or if you were backpacking and had only a 3-season tent and 40 degree sleeping bag, for example)?
2a. Were you snowshoing, XC skiing, backcountry skiing on AT or tele skis?
2b. Were you tramping through the snow in fairly cold weather, vs a sunny spring day? (Barb and I went bicycling overnight on Cape Cod around Easter time one year on a sunny spring day, then woke up the next morning to a snow storm, and we were in our summer cycle touring clothes - short sleeve jerseys and shorts).
3. How familiar with the area are you? (On our spring blizzard bike tour, we at least had transportation and a familiar road to ride, and only about 20 miles to cover, but we still accepted a ride in a van for the last 5 miles - and wouldn't you know - just over the Cape Cod Canal, the weather was warm and muggy, an incredibly sharp demarcation across the frontal system)
4. Do you have map, compass, and maybe GPSR with appropriate waypoints marked?

5:17 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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1. How far from the trailhead are you?

15-20 miles

2. How "unprepared" are you (if you are out on a winter's day tramping through the snow on skis or snowshoes anyway, or if you were backpacking and had only a 3-season tent and 40 degree sleeping bag, for example)?

Backpacking and had only a 3-season tent and a 40 degree bag, and enough gear/food for a 3 day-weekend.

2a. Were you snowshoing, XC skiing, backcountry skiing on AT or tele skis?
2b. Were you tramping through the snow in fairly cold weather, vs a sunny spring day?

You were prepared for an early spring weekend backpacking trip -- assuming no snow fall. In my mind, that would include a medium weight coat, hat, gloves, two shirts, and two pants.

3. How familiar with the area are you?
4. Do you have map, compass, and maybe GPSR with appropriate waypoints marked?

You have a basic backpacking trail map (no detailed topo) and a compass. This is a backpacking trail you read about and thought you'd give it a try, so you've never hiked it before.


How's that for uber-hypothetical...

5:22 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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What I'm basically wondering is at what point are the risks of staying put and freezing greater than the risks of wondering around in the snow storm given you're most likely very cold, disoriented from the white-out conditions, etc..?

5:47 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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There is a good account of almost this exact scenario here-
http://tinyurl.com/6zfrlk
Once you get to the thread, follow my links to the stories and posts.

Short version-a group of inexperienced and under equipped hikers go snow camping and get caught in huge PNW snowstorm. A couple of them hiked out, got a cel phone signal and they all were rescued after a huge effort involving about a 100 rescuers, snowmobiles and helicopters.

Without that effort, their chances appeared to be pretty sketchy. The lesson is don't find yourself in that situation.

With the gear you have listed, you might make it if the storm doesn't tear up your tent. If it happened at the beginning of the trip, I'd start rationing food and fuel immediately. I am assuming you are with someone else. I camp alone, so that would affect my decision. I'd try to wait it out and see if the snow hardened up at all. Trying to hike with a pack in powder is almost impossible without showshoes, or even with them if it's deep enough.

So, based on what little I know, wandering around in a storm is a really bad idea. At least in the tent, you'd be dry and not burning up all your energy reserves.

In another event, two hikers died from hypothermia on Mt. Rainier even though they had all the gear they needed. What happened was they were caught lightly dressed in a whiteout and didn't get their gear out soon enough before hypothermia set in and they lost their ability to think. They were found sitting or laying next to their fully loaded packs.

Your scenario is a good example of why a PLB or Spot might be a good thing to have. The first rescue triggered by a PLB was similar to the scenario you describe. Took place in upstate NY as I recall.

11:06 p.m. on November 18, 2008 (EST)
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In some sense, the bike trip I described comes somewhat close to matching your scenario, except that you can cover 20 miles on bike on good roads much faster than you can hike that distance on trails, and the snowfall was about 6 inches. We were much ok for clothing, given that April is generally pretty reasonable temperature in New England. The blizzard was unique in that the dividing line was so sharp (couple miles from blizzard, though no whiteout, to warm 70 deg and muggy) and so great a difference from one side to the other.

But for early spring in the Sierra, Cascades, or Rockies, I would not venture 15-20 miles from the trailhead that lightly equipped. Heavy snowstorms are common in many years as late as mid-April - heavy both in the sense of volume and the snow being very high water content, hence dense. It snows in all those places every month of the year.

Some specific comments -

First, overall - going with that gear in "early spring" in the Western mountains or the NH Whites or Baxter Park is travelling right on the edge (except in the Whites, you can't get 15-20 miles from the nearest trailhead, though you can get severe weather that makes travel difficult to impossible).

1. "15-20 miles" - That's 2 to 3 days hike in good weather for most backpackers, a long way for any type of emergency. So this is not a weekend trip, except for fast ultralight hikers, more like a 4 to 5 day hike. Yes, I have taken older scouts on 20-25 mile 3-day hikes, but in summer, well away from snow likelihood (lower elevations for one thing), and a loop with potential 5 mile or less bailout points.

2. "Backpacking, 3-season tent, 40 deg bag, 3 days of food" - So you are leaving no margin for a hike that is 2-3 days travel from the trailhead. I would also say that a 40 deg bag in areas that get snowstorms in the early spring is really pushing your luck.

3 and 4 are fairly typical for lots of backpackers, and if you stick to the trails, that is ok, unless you get your hypothetical blizzard.

Still, as the incidents that Tom mentions indicate, people do indeed head out at times of year when there are sudden "unexpected" blizzards with about that amount of gear. One of the worst examples was in the fall a few years ago, when 4 or 5 separate parties in different parts of the Sierra were trapped and most needed rescue. In a couple of the cases, the people were car camping way back up forestry roads, with the cars (4WD in at least one of the groups) being finally retrieved the following spring/summer.

But given your scenario, and assuming the people were smarter than their choice of gear for a 15-20 mile back in from the trailhead for a weekend trip in early spring in an area that this surely wasn't the first early spring blizzard would indicate, the best bet, as Tom said, is to pitch your tent in as sheltered spot as possible and start rationing food and fuel immediately. They should stay put and prepare to place very visible signals as soon as the storm lets up (see any good wilderness survival book for appropriate signals, or look in Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills). I would hope that they left an accurate itinerary with someone who is responsible enough to notify the local authorities of the situation.

Also, a emergency signalling device such as SPOT (probably the least expensive option), or other PLB/EPIRB would help searchers find them more quickly (as my upcoming review notes, PLBs and EPIRBS - slight difference between these - transmit on 406 MHz and involve the COSPAR-SARSAT satellites to relay the emergency message, which for some versions includes a GPS-derived position, While SPOT relays a GPS-derived position via a HELP or 911-emergency message via the Globalstar satphone's digital messaging system to your designated contacts (HELP) or an international SAR coordination organization. Of course, just having the position doesn't guarantee the 5-minute response time of urban 911, as in the unfortunate case a few weeks ago in the Sierra, where a blizzard prevented the SAR team from getting to the victim for several days (the autopsy indicated that he died from hypothermia within a few hours of the first 911 message that went through the SPOT Globalstar system).

6:14 a.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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The response would depend on your condition and knowledge at the time the incident happened and the relative condition of others in your party. Were I faced with the choice, in reasonable condition, holding a good map and having quite good map and compass skills I'd turn back and try to get, if not all the way out, at least as far as I could before a)facing exhaustion b)getting soaking wet c)going hypothermic. When I felt I was reaching my limits I'd make camp, boil water, get as dry as possible, re-hydrate, get myself nice and warm and grab some rest.
By doing this I'd hope to accomplish a couple things

I'd be closer to the trail head, hence, I'd have a shorter slog through the really deep stuff than if I'd waited.
I'd also be more likely to be stumbled upon by a day hiker if I was in trouble.

7:59 a.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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I reply to this post after returning from a SAR mission where we spent over 16 hours searching for an 82 y.o. man in Tobyhanna State Park. http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081119/NEWS/811190327
He just decided to "Take a walk". Similar situation to the one in question, temps dropped into the low 20's, snow squalls, wind gusts of 30+ mph. This one worked out though, because we were able to get rough GPS coordinates (ping only, no service) from his cell phone provider. He was very, very lucky. After being lost for over 32 hours in those conditions, his situation was critical and he had to be air lifted to the hospital.

This question has a lot of variables. It was posed hypothetically, so my answer will be the same, not directed at any one person, just the imaginary person in the query.

As a SAR tech I will tell you that, no matter what, if lost, STAY PUT. tbastress' post didn't say lost though, so I'll go with that. In this scenario, you are just caught off guard by a snowstorm.

What are you doing in the backcountry? Hiking, backpacking, hunting, birding? Your activity may dictate what gear you have with you.

As a responsible outdoors person - shame on you! You should have checked the weather before you left. Even if you didn't, you know what time of year it is, you know it snows and when. You should have prepared for it.

Did you file an itinerary or tell a family member where you are going? This would be one of those situations where telling someone your intentions might get you help LONG before you are overdue. If I went on a day hike in March, without the proper gear, and we had a snow squall here in PA, my wife would know how prepared I was and if I needed help, early on.

How far from the trailhead have you gotten? How long until dark? These things would also weigh in on your decision.

My stock response is always, "DON'T". Don't put yourself in this position. Do plan ahead. Do think of the unthinkable. Do expect the unexpected.

In closing I'll share this little gem of advice given to me by my scout leader, many years ago. "If you fail to plan, plan to fail". Words to (literally) live by.

6:44 p.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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Bill, to clarify a bit. The Rainier incident involved an experienced hiker and a novice. They were fully equipped, but made two mistakes-did not turn back towards the hut at the base of the snowfield when the weather turned, and didn't immediately get out their heavy weather gear as soon as it started to get nasty. IIRC, they were wearing lightweight jackets and pants, but had a tent, stove, plenty of food and warm clothes with them. They were found not far from the hut, but didn't have a GPS to find their way back to it in the whiteout.

In the PNW incident, the party met online and the trip was billed as "Introduction to winter camping (EASY): Melakwa Lake overnight" on the ad.

The rescue effort was pretty heroic. The comments by the trip leader and at least one participant, Chris are enlightening. Chris is an idiot. I wouldn't walk across the street with this guy. He totally makes light of the danger he and the others were in, not to mention the danger the rescuers were in. One of the helo crew posted that it was really brutal trying to get to these people.

Chris claims they had adequate gear, but he is clueless. They wound up with several torn up tents and wet bags. Not one of them had snowshoes or skis and this was in winter, on snow, in the backcountry. He wound up with frozen feet, so that shows how little he understood the meaning of "adequate."

There is a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" on the forums, but some of it seems well deserved. The leader does acknowledge his mistakes and thanks the rescuers, so at least he understood the gravity of the situation. There were some other fatal casualties during that storm from a couple of avalanches near where this rescue happened.

7:50 p.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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Tbastress
And others.

In my opinion, for what its worth, Hunker down and wait for the storm to settle. Take that time to prepare and plan how to get out when safe.

In my neck of the woods, that major winter storm could be and quit often is deadly. I might be in a low laying coastal area, this storm could bring high winds, hard on the head what with tree branches bouncing of the noggin. Lots of rain, means wet, everything wet, lots of storm streams. Streams, creeks, and rivers would be in flood stage. Not safe for crossing. Are the bridges still intact? High winds could topple trees across and or wipe out those bridges. Maybe while you are on one. That high wind may just be blowing hard enough that it is hard to see, what with rain drops and tree/bush branches whipped across the face. Are you close to a cliff? Watch your step. That 2 inch tree branch looks really cool stuck into the ground by your foot. Only three inches away from you. The wind has taken your hiking trail map away and you have broken your compass when you fell on the slick wet moss.

As some in the posts have thrown snow into the mix it could be the west coast white mud type of snow. Heavy, very wet, and very slippery. Temperature hovering around the freezing mark.

I think I would stay put in the safest area I could find at the time.

More important what do you do after you survive (cause no one gets hurt hypothetically)?

7:53 p.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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We had three groups of hikers - 2,2,1 - lost in the White Mountains of NH last winter in just, IIRC, eight days. There was one fatality. Many SAR volunteers risked their lives and broken limbs to get these people out. All three incidents could have been easily avoided.

The first twosome decided to make a hike in fourteen hours in winter that would take longer than that in summer. After getting lost on the first peak with a whiteout, they settled in for the night. One died of hypothermia overnight, the second was finally found, far from the trail the next day by searchers.

The second "rescue" was for a single hiker who decided to emulate the rout of the others just a few days later (seriously) but planned to be out for three days. He had all the necessary camping gear, but no snowshoes. At the end of the first day he called out to his girlfriend to have him rescued in the morning. He made no attempt to return down the trail and was found warming his feet over his stove when the copter touched down the next morning. Many searchers had struggled up through deep snow searching for him.

The third incident was "classic". Two mid-twenty, healthy, experienced hikers from VA, started on the same peak. A whiteout occurred. They had GPS, map, and compass. They followed their GPS down the wrong side of the mountain into a mass of running streams and blowdowns. They called from there for rescue and were told that they could get out by retracing their steps and taking a different turn-off. They were in a known location and in no danger from hypothermia and in good health. The hikers said they would stay where they were and await rescue by chopper because "it was too wet coming down." A copter pilot, at great personal risk, got them out.

When it was mentioned to the last two hikers that they should pay for the exact cost of their rescue, they went to the press stating that they were adequately prepared for conditions so they had not been reckless.

BTW, the highly touted first use of the PLB in New York state was by a man who didn't need rescue but was too lazy to paddle/portage his own canoe back out. A few weeks later he went back for his canoe, caught a sniffle, and activated his PLB again. He was arrested for the second offense.

NH was to modify the law for rescues to make it easier for the DF&G to charge heedless hikers and outdoors people for the cost of their rescue. I don't know if the new law has been enacted.

8:48 p.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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I have been reading this thread with considerable interest and some quiet amusement. It seems as though quite a number of "outdoorsmen" get themselves into serious shite while hiking/camping in what is really very settled country and then others have to risk life and limb saving their butts.

Here at Vancouver, BC, we have EXACTLY the same type of arrogant morons, who frequently come out of the North Shore Mountains lashed, in a bag, to the skid of a Bell 206. MANY of these wizards claim all kinds of expertise and can operate a GPS, PLB, sat phone and discuss how one can camp in wilderness using discount store gear....yet, they end up deader than hell.....odd, that.

In recent years, the use of BC's enormous, empty and harsh backcountry has increased exponentially and many foreign hikers, ski mountaineers and various other recreationists come here to experience what we have. The death toll has become substantial as BC is not quite what many seem to think it is and mistakes in the bush here WILL kill you, real damm quick.

It has come to the point that the Ass'n. of Canadian Mountain Guides has repeatedly called for mandatory guiding for foreign tourists and I completely agree; as it is these people who usually volunteer to risk THEIR lives to rescue dunderheads who have no business further into "wilderness" than the nearest Starbucks.

One of my younger brothers is a "paramedic" and has flown out quite a number of frozen corpses; to hear him and the chopper pilots talk in private is quite a revelation. I remember working with Canadian Forces survival trainers at Hinton, AB., circa 1990-91 and many of these guys were SARS with extensive coastal and Arctic experience.....having been on a few rescues myself, I can appreciate their somewhat cynical view of recreationalist "outdoorsmen".

For me, and meaning no offence to anyone, I would NEVER train kids to "walk out" of the bush when lost and trying that here in BC is a method for almost certain death and permanent disappearance. I also firmly believe in teaching people to CARRY the "10 Essentials" FIRST, and KNOW how to bivouac BEFORE going on your trek; electronic aids are great, but, a warm, dry camp WILL keep you alive for the tracking dogs to find, LONG after your elec.-widgets fail.

Funny, a good emerg. camp. for winter BC conditions costs LESS than a PLB, yet, many ignore this and risk their lives on a device which can fail....keeps the Coroner busy, anyway........

11:02 p.m. on November 19, 2008 (EST)
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Just a touch up/apology re: the harshness of my last post. It is a great thing to play the what if game before one enters the woods. I find that a lot of people like to sugar coat their what ifs, and don’t plan for the worst that could hit them.

I live in the same general area as Kutenay and YES BC is an enormous, empty, harsh place. The very Nature that so many whish to see and experience can and does SMACK ONE UP SIDE THE HEAD if one does not treat Nature carefully.

For many people of our areas just a few minutes away from civilization and if not prepared one can be in severe trouble. If one has trouble emergency services may reach you in a few minutes (?) The recovery of the person may take hours to accomplish. For a large part of the area it is volunteers taken away from their families, homes and or jobs to help out the less fortunate.

Summer, Winter, or any other time, one should prepare for the area and for the weather. Check ahead and if the weather is fowl, just maybe stay home any time of the year.

2:50 a.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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I lived in New Zealand for a while many years ago and the weather there can go from bright and sunny to wild and wooly from one minute to another. Hypothermia is a fairly common occurence. The Arthur's Pass SAR reports are fairly entertaining to read (they are online). Just as in BC, many of those rescued are foreign tourists who don't understand where they are, and by that I mean they don't understand how the weather works there. Maritime climate and high mountains make for conditions that can go from shorts and tee shirt weather to full parka and storm gear in a few hours. Been there myself on the Milford Track. Even with huts on established tracks, it can get dicey quickly.

I never met any experienced hikers down there who didn't have full storm gear with them at all times in the mountains.

9:41 a.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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I appreciate everyone's contribution to my hypothetical question. Those that answered the "what should I do" question seem to be equally divided on the answer. Those that asked "why were you unprepared" seem to be unanimous.

What got me thinking about this was the story two years ago about James Kim. He wasn't backpacking, per se, but wouldn't the principles discussed here still apply?

http://news.cnet.com/James-Kim-died-of-hypothermia,-autopsy-reveals/2100-1028_3-6141886.html

So, whether you're caught in the backcountry unprepared or you get your car stuck out in the boonies, what's the best course of action?

11:50 a.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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redpatch,
No need to apologize for any harshness. In fact, there are times when I read about incidents and encounter unprepared people in the hills that I get this "Time for Darwin to strike NOW!" feeling. In the local hills, I see people all the time hiking up a trail that will be 10 miles round trip on a hot summer day (the opposite of the scenario) with either no water or one of those tiny bottled water things that has no more than a cup of water. I can't count the number of times I have been out on a training hike with 5 gallons of water in the pack and felt enough mercy to reduce my load by giving people at the far end of the trail a bit of the water, while at the same time restraining myself from saying things like "you totally stupid @%#*&, do you have ANY idea how close you are to dying?" And the same thing in winter. One notable incident when we were in New England was hiking up a peak in New Hampshire on a trail that in summer would be a somewhat strenuous hike, but was a frozen stream, requiring crampons. On our way down, just before sunset, we encountered a group clad in tennis shoes and light cotton pants and shirts, no packs (so no gear and no sign of flashlights) headed up. We noted that it was still a ways to the top and the trail was solid ice starting about a quarter mile farther on, but they were intent on heading to the top. Well, there are too many people on the planet, anyway (I presume they survived, since there was nothing in the papers).

tba -
Kim did the classic thing - make a series of mistakes, none of which by themselves would have killed him, but step by step plunged him deeper and deeper beyond the point of no return. In walking out, he might have made it if he had stayed on the road. If, on his way into the situation, he had not pressed on when making wrong turns, he might have gotten away with it. If he had not decided to take an unfamiliar shortcut to cut the driving time, without a map of the area, he might not have gotten into trouble. If he had noticed some signs that indicated the roads ahead were not plowed, he might have made a 180 deg turn early enough. And so on.

As to what the best course of action would have been, first and most obvious is Prevention - don't head into such a situation in the first place. Equally, if you are driving in winter, have survival gear in the car. We drive long distances across the Sierra and northern Nevada every winter. We have full winter camping gear in the car - expedition tent, -40 deg sleeping bags, clothing for those conditions including hiking boots, stove, food, snowshoes and/or backcountry skis, and so on. But once there, he would have been better off to stay put. The SAR team did spot the car within a short time after he had left it. I can understand his decision to hike out for help, sort of. But he was unfamiliar with the roads, and had driven well after dark in the storm. So he had no idea where he was, nor that you travel much farther and faster in a car. So was his hike out going to be 1 mile, 10 miles, 100 miles - he had no clue. Since there are branches in the road, which one did he take - again he had no clue. He had no map to help him. He apparently had little or no backcountry or basic navigational experience. And to top it off, he decided to take a "shortcut" by leaving the road to join an imagined switchback of the same road, cutting his distance. Sorry, no, if you decide to hike out (wrong wrong wrong!), at least stay on the road and try to figure out which is the main road by scraping down through the snow and looking for signs at the junctions.

The news media played him up as a sort of hero, sacrificing to save his family. Sorry, no, he was not.

Ok, I am being harsh. But Nature is even harsher. As the old movie about survival puts it you have to play by Nature's rules. Violate those rules and the consequence is DEATH!

1:30 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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Bill's point about the car is well taken. Every winter there are stories about people being lost in the Sierra in their car on some side road. Sometimes they are rescued, sometimes not.

I bet if you asked the CHP about what they see at chain controls on I80 or Hwy 50, you'd be amazed-people driving up to Reno or Tahoe in mid winter in a storm, wearing jeans and tee shirts with no gear of any kind in the car because they intend to stay at a hotel. You sometimes see them on tv being interviewed and they seem surprised it is cold and snowing in December. Doh!

One thing that would be easy to carry in a car or backpack is a rescue panel-a big piece of bright orange ripstop nylon you could lay out on the roof to make you or the car easier to spot from the air.

2:22 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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Bill,
I can relate to that...

When we did Whitney this summer, on our return down the mountain about 1,000 feet in elevation from the summit, we encountered a father heading up with his two boys, completely out of water. They were dehydrated and one son was experiencing mild altitude sickness. My wife and I always carry more than we need "just in case". This day our "just in case" turned out to be running into a guy who not only put himself in danger but his young, (under 16) children. We gave him all of our emergency supply, 2 liters, and wished him the best. There is no way 2 litters was enough for three hikers but hopefully he found other good Samaritans along the way.

2:49 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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BigSmoke - Scenario 2, I love it :)

7:41 p.m. on November 24, 2008 (EST)
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Happened to me (sole) just a couple of months ago (70lb pack). Blizzard at about 5000 feet, 20 yards visability, NO Crampons. the day prior was T-shirt and shorts WX. I went off the alpine trail looking for flat spot to camp and woke up to tent fly clasping, thinking it was just tent failure from rain. I had no idea if I left the trail from the night before going left or right. I know I did somethings wrong, but as I write this I guess I did some things right. I probably would have died otherwise.

It was not the first time I scared the _____ out of myself, but the older I get the less I really don't care to build on these kind of memories. I will always pack my spikes now (crampons), even if they add a couple of pounds to an already heavey load.

9:43 p.m. on December 27, 2008 (EST)
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Hi
I have always felt that carrying the clothes required to move in an unexpected storm is basic to being prepared. With the right gear, you simply leave, or head back part way and at some point, stop for the night, or stop for a spot of tea, maybe set up your tent and get into your sleeping bag, eat and continue on. I used to wait for the Sierra mountain storm warnings and then head up to be in the storm. I have camped and played in some real blizards. I don't consider a storm to be a problem, its generally the reason I go in the first place.

Now I live at 4,000 feet elevation in Bend Oregon 20 miles from Mt Bachelor and the Three Sisters Wilderness. The absolute worst blowing snow I ever encounter is from my snow blower. It throws the snow in the air and the winds carry it away, often into my face. Any clothes fit for snow blowing are fit for traveling in a sorm.

If I was with newbies or kids or persons not as strong as me or with a sick person, I might opt to stay put and await SAR. Its just not my personal preference to be rescued. It would also depend on whether We could get a cell phone signal, a gps signal, or other navigational complexities.

20 miles in is a long ways when the weather turns bad. Sometimes just waiting it out is best, if time allows, it could melt off and be better hiking in a couple of days.

OTOH staying for the storm is exciting and traveling after the storm would be beautiful but you must understand avolanche safety.

Frankly I 4wd a lot with my dog and I am often 5-15 miles in and I never have much besides water, lighter, chain saw and axe, maybe a coat or sweat pants in the back. I would build a huge fire, after all this IS oregon - we got lots of pine trees. BUT Some places up there you get cell communication and some places you don't. I might walk until I get a signal and call home then go back to the truck and build a fire. Or I might hike with my 9 pound Husqvarna saw and build a fire where ever I wish.

Jim S Happy New Year

12:17 a.m. on December 28, 2008 (EST)
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For those who don't know Jim (which Tom and I do, having done a bit of camping, skiing, minimal gear camping, retro-camping, etc with him), Jim is extremely experienced and is pulling your legs a bit. Actually one of the scariest and potentially riskiest experiences I had with Jim was going into the Crown Valley area, having packed ultralight (except for the container of vintage fruit of the grape), and discovering we had negelected to determine it was hunting season - all sorts of folk running around with weapons ready to "harvest" wild beasts. That was also the trip that the horse packer chewed us out for having white packs (Kelty Clouds) that we had set down on the stream bank next to the trail crossing the stream - these white things spooked the horses.

No, wait, the time he broke his leg leaping over redwoods was scarier. He claims it was all my fault. I do admit I got him into the situation. But I did warn him not to leap the redwoods.

But I do agree with Jim - a storm can be a beautiful and awesome thing --- IF you are prepared and experienced in dealing with it. If you aren't, it can be deadly.

1:36 a.m. on December 28, 2008 (EST)
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I'm still waiting to hear a full explanation from Jim about breaking his leg. Bill has a good point though. I know Jim from a short trip to Yosemite, cut short partly because I got what I think was food poisoning from the restaurant meal we had the night before we hit the park. It started snowing pretty good after we had set up, but we were well prepared-big winter tent (Jim's TNF mountain tent), good stoves, warm clothes, so other than me feeling lousy, the weather wasn't that much of a factor.

Jim posts a lot on TLB (www.backpacking.net) and isn't shy about emphasizing being prepared. Some people have some rather naive notions about winter. My winter experience is very limited, but even I have enough sense to check the weather and be prepared for the worst. Dragging a sled, which is how I take my gear since I really can't carry a 50 lb. pack, isn't all that much fun, but once I have my winter tent set up and set up my "kitchen" and get out my warm clothes for the night, it is worth it.

I did switch from snowshoes to skis and like them a lot better. Not ideal for some situations I am sure, like steep climbs, but more fun, especially with skins on them.

Not sure if I have mentioned it here before, but there is a really good Canadian site called www.wintertrekking.com which has some great articles and forums on what could be called traditional camping in very cold weather-the -20 to -40C kind of cold. The Canadians, plus a few Americans who live in Minnesota, take tobaggans with loads of gear-big tents, wood burning stoves and traditional cotton or wool clothes, mixed with modern sleeping bags. Makes for very interesting reading. They also have a lot of pictures posted of their gear and clothes.

11:42 a.m. on December 29, 2008 (EST)
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I think it's always better to be over prepared than under prepared. For example, I 6 months of food storage in my home, because I live in Va Beach, we've never had a real hurricane do anything, but it could happen! Therefor I'm prepared.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

November 26, 2014
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