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Guiding Principles for the High Country
The beauty of walking with snowshoes lies in the simplicity of this endeavor, the healthy affect of an invigorating walk, and the opportunity to experience the harmony that nature has provided since time in memorial. However, the snow-bound wayfarer must be constantly aware of their surroundings and on the look-out for possibilities and situations that could lead to injury, or worse, when out in the harsh, unforgiving conditions of the mountains in winter. Safety for winter recreational sports is vitally important; it could save your life. There was a sign at the gates of our Forward Observation Base in Bagdad that we saw every time we left the base that read, “Stay Alert, Stay Alive.” That’s also sound advice to heed while on a snowshoeing expedition where you have the added benefit of not encountering bombs and bullets.
A good tip I also learned as a forest firefighter to stay safe in mountainous woodlands is “Look up, look down, look all around.” I know it sounds like something you’d sing along with on Sesame Street but this simple cadence will prevent many mishaps. Constantly alternate your gaze from down for hidden streams and sink holes under the snow; to up in the trees for snagged limbs that could blow down on your noggin in strong winds; and always keep an eye out for the weather in every direction. In the high country the weather can change in a flash and you probably don’t want to get caught out there in a white-out blizzard. The previous list applies to any terrain incidentally. Be aware that altitude is a factor in consuming you’re energy and if you’re not acclimated and feel woozy, turn around and head back to the vehicle or cabin.
The Dual Nature of Trekking Poles
While trekking poles add stability and make this snow sport the best full body workout in winter, they also play a vital role in traversing unknown terrain. Using your trekking poles to probe any area you feel unsafe about is a must. Plant them down firmly a few feet ahead of you if you suspect a sink hole or any suspected body of water. Snow drifts can make for great cover and concealment for all sorts of things that may trip you up. Never hesitate to find another route if you think you might be in danger. A few weeks ago I went on a long snowshoe in the Beaverhead National Forest and found that a huge frozen lake was between me and my desired destination. Even though the temperatures had been well below freezing for weeks, the lake had small holes of open water and gave off a precarious vibe toward the shore as well. Therefore, I took the long way around rather than risk an impromptu initiation into the polar bear club.
Following these principles will greatly enhance the comfort and safety of your journey. However, there are some integral items you should pack with you which are essential for your safety in preventing cold weather maladies such as frost bite and hypothermia. Look to my article entitled “Packing for a Snowshoe Expedition to Prevent Cold Weather Injuries” listed below to learn what those essentials are.