pitfalls

1:41 p.m. on January 27, 2019 (EST)
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Hi guys, BTW the photo of the green tent is of my bibler eldorado.

So anyway it seems like we have lots of very experienced people jockying to say something intelligent. So I thought perhaps we should share some benefit from our experience for beginners.

TREE WELLS and FOREST: I sometimes like camping under fir trees in the tree wells. If the snow isn't too deep or loose tree wells can be warm places out of the wind with a ready supply of firewood. Of course you can become trapped in one and die there. If you are hiking in trees in sort of shallow snow, you can step through and get your leg trapped between two logs. You shouldn't camp alone or hike alone off trail in the Winter unless you are very sure of your ability to self rescue (a folding Swedish saw could save your life) and move under any circumstances.

CRACKS MELTOUTS HOLES CORNICE: So a bit higher up the mountain there are melted out cracks on the sunny sides of boulders. These have nice flat tops often and it seems like a good place to walk, but if you slip and your leg drops in, the snow can close around it like being buried in an avalanche, and unless you have a ice axe, self rescue may be impossible. Beware of stepping in any cracks or holes. CORNICEs are unsupported snow lips stuck to the top of ridges caused by blowing snow. You could accidently walk or ski onto one and fall through and land at the bottom of a cliff. STAY BACK from edges and consider roped travel if you have a partner. I one time did invert and drop head first through a cornice. Fortunately my three pin bindings held when the skis became entangled in a small tree growning out of the cliff. I could not see anything and was hanging upside down. I had to pull myself up on top of my skis after unfastening them and then slid into snow towards the cliff until I was above solid ground. Whew...

FROZEN LAKES: Do not go there, and especially never ever go to the edge, bend down and try to fill a canteen in middle of a lake. If you break the ice, only staying on top of your skis and running will keep you out of deep ice water and a very cold death. There is no reason to get more than ten feet from the shore of a lake to find smooth skiing.     Jim your mileage may vary... 

3:11 p.m. on January 27, 2019 (EST)
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One man's syncline is another man's anticline. 

I avoid tree wells and cornices, but have skied across plenty of lakes, but only in cold weather. 

After the weather, the greatest hazards to me are the ones that can cause falls, avalanche chutes, crevasses, steep exposed ridges, cornices, rotten ice falls, etc. 

7:55 p.m. on January 27, 2019 (EST)
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3,423 forum posts

Wind.
Exposure to the elements is one of the primary dangers of cold weather camping.  Winter time winds along ridge lines and high altitude reach the force of a Cat 2 hurricane - even higher in select locations.  Only expert erection of a tent - and considerable luck - will preclude your shelter from shredding or becoming airborne, along with its occupants.  If you go up where such winds may occur, be prepared to dig shelters into the snow (e.g. snow caves). 

Lake Ice.
I just avoid lake ice altogether.  Under certain conditions it is thinnest at the shoreline, while other times it is thinnest mid lake, and sometime both locations are suspect.  Whatever time is saved short cutting across a lake, it is not worth the gamble IMO.  Death can come quick to those who get immersed in freezing cold water.  Even if you somehow manage to escape the water, you will be battling shock caused from the sudden exposure to extreme cold, and may not be able to perform tasks necessary to getting out of your wet cloths and into a dry, warm place.   Lastly consider self rescue from breaking through ice is extremely difficult; and others will be placed at risk if they attempt rescuing someone else in the backcountry.

Streams.
Skiing up ravines along stream beds is often the most efficient route.  But never ski down a stream bed you didn't first ascend earlier in the day.  People skiing the stream bed have approached what appears from above to be a steep, little slope, only to find as they ski over the edge it is a water fall with an exposed splash basin below.  At the very least you get soaked; likely you also sustain incapacitating injuries.  Ski down untraveled stream beds along the banks with sight lines that provide allow you to evaluate the route ahead before you are at the brink of an obstacle . 

Crossing a stream course is a serious, risky, often necessary proposition.  Evaluate all options, and don't resort to sketchy snow bridges or thin ice under any circumstances.  Find another crossing point if a satisfactory route is not at hand.   

Water Fetching. 
Avoid getting close to water when the edge is not secure.  People often slip on snow or ice and fall in, or plunge through the snow only to find the stream is directly beneath them.  I have a cord specifically used to attach a pot to a ski pole so I can fetch water at a safe stand off distance from getting wet.

Using stoves in shelters.
Carbon monoxide is always a hazard when using a stove in an enclosed space.  People have been found dead in tents from this danger.  Likewise uncontrolled fires can cause an emergency when mission critical equipment gets torched, or people sustain serious burns.  Don't fall into the hubristic mindset that you know what you are doing, cooking in your tent or vestuble because shit happens - you are not in control of your tent mates’ movements, and equipment failures occur, regardless how diligent one is inspecting and maintaining equipment.  Seasoned mountaineers have stories that often go: we were melting water when suddenly there was a big fireball, and the next thing I knew my eyebrow were gone, my face scorched and the tent walls burned away, leaving just the tents poles the floor.  You may have done this all your life with no incident.  It is an unnecessary, avoidable risk.  People don't normally die from a stove/tent fire, but tent fires are milestone events that often precede tragedies that arise from injuries or loss of shelter.

Footing.
Every year several people are seriously injured or die in the San Gabriel Mountains that border Los Angeles, due to trekking into situations they cannot safely retreat from.  This has several contributing factors: People walking up steep, soft snow that freezes hard in the late afternoon and become dangerously slippery; or people going up or down steep inclines without crampons or ice axe, lose their footing, slip, and essentially transform into an uncontrolled human toboggan. 

Another hazard is traveling over new snow on terrain lacking a pre existing base snow pack. You cannot know what the surface terrain is under the new snow.  If your foot plunges through the snow all the way to the ground, you may end up wedging your foot between two rocks and breaking your leg.  It only requires a foot of snow for this hazard to present itself.

Couloirs.
Often routes to ridge lines ascend a couloir.  Approach traveling in couloirs strategically, and avoid being in them after the snow pack has warmed. If too late, camp somewhere below and scale it the next day.  Similar consideration should be given to descending a couloir late in the day.  Plan ahead for these considerations before your set out.  I know someone who got caught up in a slide after bagging a peak, when he chose to drop down into a steep couloir full of sun warmed snow.  Warming can cause avalanches, which often get channeled into couloirs, or cause rocks to break free from the ledges, turning the chutes into bowling alleys of tumbling rocks and human pins.  Never assume a couloir is safe just because you are there early in the day, they are always inherently unstable, even in the summer when the snow pack is long gone.  Therefore I try to take a line along the edge of the couloir versus traveling in the trough where debris are most likely to chase.

If you are scaling terrain steep enough to be dangerous if you lose your footing, consider taking seminar(s) that teach how to travel safely in steep terrain.  You should probably include basic rope handling skills addressing rock, as well as snow and ice.  Often a winter skills seminar will cover several different topics, including the ones mentioned below.  It is worth far more than the price.

Self Rescue.
Assume you and your party are the only resource available to evacuate anyone unable to walk out on their own power.  If your adventure takes you into very steep terrain you will need to know high aspect technical rescue techniques such "Z-pulley" lifts and belays.  This merits attending a skills seminar that covers the topic.

Avalanche safety.
This is a rather large topic, beyond the scope of a forum post to cover in a responsible manner.  Just spend some bucks and take a seminar from the professionals on the topic. 

Ed  

 

9:58 a.m. on January 28, 2019 (EST)
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Glad you mentioned avalanches.  There are good predictions now for avalance danger.  I hear the Howitzers going off after every snowfall.  The ski areas across the valley use big guns to initiate avlanches in ski areas. 

IN the old days there were no predictions for danger.  We learned to dig some snow pits and evaluate the layers in the snow, much like looking at a soil profile.  Identify the weak layers in the snow.  Carry snow shovels, beacons, probes  and trail a piece of brightly colored parachute cord.  When I first went to UW I was interested in glaciology, but quickly figured out that it is a field with limited employment potential.

11:54 a.m. on January 29, 2019 (EST)
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lots of good advice here. for what it's worth, i skied on lakes in Minnesota for the four years I was there. considering the temperatures there in the winter, it was safe. people were driving SUVs on those lakes all winter.  

4:33 p.m. on January 29, 2019 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

lots of good advice here. for what it's worth, i skied on lakes in Minnesota for the four years I was there. considering the temperatures there in the winter, it was safe. people were driving SUVs on those lakes all winter.  

But the ice on the lakes in Mn where people are driving on is monitored, often with public authorities involved, are vehicle accessible, and folks there are often taught how to do perform rescues, and have the equipment to carry it out, making all of will mitigates the danger.  Lakes in the BC aren't any of these things, calling their safety into question due to unknown factors and their remoteness.  Nevertheless there are still ice mishaps in Mn ice activity areas every year, many of which would not have ended so well if not for the above mentioned considerations. 

I lived in the Chicago suburbs in my youth.  We also had some monitored ice play areas where people were safely enjoying activities; meanwhile people were getting into dangerous predicaments on other, nearby, un-monitored iced or ponds and creeks. Lake ice varies from lake to lake, even in the same locality, even on the same lake.  Un-monitored ice is an unknown factor.  Is it worth the risk of doing this in the BC, all for an easier route, short cut or better view?

Ed

November 20, 2019
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