Here are some tips to help you stay safe in the backcountry. If you have questions, or would like us to conduct a backcountry safety class, please contact us.
Mountain Safety Rules
- Temperature drops 4 degrees/1000′ of elevation gain.
- Lightning kills, Lightning Safety Guidelines
- Watch for hypothermia.
- Rockfall hazard? Wear a helmet.
- Belay any climb with risk of injury.
- Beware fast moving storms.
- Altitude sickness (AMS) is aided only by descent.
- Make note of return route.
- If lost, bivouac.
- Cell phone or GPS is not a substitute for preparation.
- Be willing to turn back: the mountains don’t care.
Your survival depends upon you!
Lost? STOP: Sit, Think, Observe and Plan
You can’t find the trail — it disappeared an hour ago. The day’s warm sun will shortly drop over that cold mountain ridge. Even with years of backcountry travel you’ve never been “lost” — have never, ever been in this circumstance.
Veteran backcountry travelers are usually determined to extricate themselves from any predicament without outside help. That’s all well and good, but can you? Your GPS receiver doesn’t work in this canyon and your cell phone battery is dead.
Fortunately, there are several things working in your favor, aren’t there?
- You’ve told a responsible party where you have gone and when you planned to return. A search will begin in short order.
- You are carrying the “10 essentials.”
- You have first aid training.
- You remember the first thing to do is S.T.O.P.!
Sit down, gain your composure and remain calm. Panicking will compound the problem. The best tool you carry is your head. It’s time to calmly and clearly use it.
- Analyze the situation. Where did I last see the trail and I how likely could I retrace my steps? What is the weather forecast for tonight (which of course you made a point of checking before leaving home)? Is this situation critical, or merely an annoyance — which you can survive?
- What are my immediate priorities: Shelter? Heat? Food? Finding my way back at all costs? Signals?
- Am I in danger (weather, terrain, injury)?
- How much light do I have left?
- What can I use for shelter (cave, overhang, snow cave, tree well)?
- Is there any fuel — how long will it take to gather for a small, but warm, fire?
Plan – Establish what to do until help arrives, for example:
- Move to stable ground.
- Attract searchers by blowing my whistle, hanging a colorful bandanna from tree limb.
- Bandage injuries.
- Gather firewood.
- Rig shelter from impending weather (use the “10 essentials”).
- Start a warming fire.
Remembering S.T.O.P will help you orient yourself so you can manage the situation. It can turn a frightful experience into one you can use to regale your friends for years to come.
For detailed information, read Coping With the Unexpected Night Out, by Peter Kummerfeldt, ©2006, Howard M. Paul