Tips for Winter Hiking in the High Alpine

Tips for Winter Hiking in the High Alpine


Wintertime adventures high in the mountains are magical alpine wonderlands as entire landscapes are transformed with a layer of snow.

Familiar locations you may have been many times before are rendered unrecognizable and transformed. Old vegetation is covered over, and trees look like something out of a fairy tale…everything becomes a mixture of shadow and light.

Some of my favorite outings into the high mountains have come after a big snowstorm—and resulted in some of my favorite images. The mountains during winter weather can also be downright treacherous, and a time to watch your back and put risk management skills into high gear.

Hypothermia, avalanches, extreme cold, and the loss of normal trail markings due to deep snow can all make your outing into the winter wonderland take a nasty turn. Old Man Winter has a way of making you pay for any small mistakes. The only way to fight back is to be prepared with the right gear and be ready to change your game plan when the tables turn. Below is a basic list of my key items for any snowy or cold—weather outing into the mountains.

Clothing

The importance of proper clothing for winter outings cannot be stressed enough. If your choice of layers isn’t adequate for the conditions you find yourself in you’re simply putting yourself in an unnecessarily risky situation.

Start with a highly breathable base layer to move the sweat away from your skin, follow up with a warm insulation layer, and finally, an outer shell that offers adequate protection against the elements you will be encountering. I always pack an additional midlayer to beef up the insulation if the temperature drops unexpectedly or I will be sitting idle for any amount of time, such as when shooting pictures from a set location or if i have to hole up under shelter to wait on the weather to pass. Well insulated, waterproof, boots are critical for any outing into the winter elements. I also carry a spare pair of warm socks to swap out if the pair I’m wearing becomes wet or sweaty. Staying dry is key to keeping warm when the temperatures drop.

Communication

Cell phones are a part of normal, everyday life now but simply should not be relied upon to keep yourself safe on a winter adventure into the hills. Even if you’re in service range, the battery will most likely die in the cold and render your device useless in case of an emergency. Make sure to notify someone you trust of your plans before heading out, as well as leaving a note on your vehicle specifying when you’re expecting to return, who to contact if you don’t, and where you’re heading.

Emergency gear

A well prepared stash of emergency supplies will definitely keep you more comfortable and may possibly keep you in one piece if the situation turns south. I always make pack an emergency blanket that can also double as a shelter, good waterproof lighter, compass, first aid kit, a few granola bars, and a headlamp whenever I head out. I also always carry a Wave for camera equipment repairs which can also be utilized to prepping kindling for a hot fire in the event you need to dry out and warm up.

These essentials will work well with whatever tools you choose to employ as you travel through a snowy landscape, whether it’s foot, snowshoe, or ski. Stay safe out there and we’ll see you out on the trail!


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