Solo winter backpacking?
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Dec 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm #1296880Kevin BurtonBPL Member
How many of you do solo winter backpacking?
Doing solo in the summer has its dangers but its usually only a few hours until someone walks along the trail ANYWAY so I figure if I get hurt someone will just find me on the trail.
In winter this will NOT be the case and I will need to be nearly 100% self sufficient.
Assuming one isn't a complete moron, and carries the right equipment, how insane is solo winter backpacking?Dec 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm #1934157Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
I do solo winter backpacking, but very little on snow if that's what you mean. I do go for days without seeing anyone else. I leave the wife an itenerary so they can retrieve my body : ) I am more careful when I'm solo.Dec 8, 2012 at 5:04 pm #1934162Mark VerberBPL Member
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
done winter solo… I don't feel insane. I will also note that I spring and fall trips I also typically don't see people except in the first and last few minutes when I am getting near the trailhead. I am much less likely to solo in the winter. Not so much from a safety as an enjoyment. Given shorter days, there is more time in camp and less moving / seeing… so having someone to share the evenings with is really nice. Also, it's a lot more fun to build a snow shelter or stomp down a space for the tarp/tent, build a kitchen area, etc with someone else.
–markDec 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm #1934170Bob GrossBPL Member
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
If you want to do a solo winter backpacking trip on skis, then go to Yosemite and park at the Badger Pass Ski Area parking lot. The rangers will issue you a free wilderness permit and free overnight parking permit in the lot. Then you ski out the unplowed Glacier Point Road to (oddly enough) Glacier Point. After a night out there, you return. In the event that you break a leg, some stranger will find you within 24 hours since that road is not exactly deserted. Actually, the better place to camp is near Sentinel Dome, which is a mile or so before Glacier Point. The view is about the same, and there are fewer people.
–B.G.–Dec 8, 2012 at 7:01 pm #1934182Mike MBPL Member
I agree w/ Mark, much less likely to go solo in the winter because of the short days- lot more time spent in camp
my wife also tends to get more anxious if I'm gone by myself in the winter vs summer :)Dec 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm #1934221David LutzMember
@davidlutzLocale: Bay Area
I went on one short solo overnighter and had a great time.
It started to snow so I retired to the tent around 5:00 pm and didn't come out until 7:00 am but that was ok. I slept and read and watched Treasure of the Sierra Madre on my phone. No biggie.
I was in a spot not far from the trailhead and knew people would be around the next day if something went wrong.
The best part was when a pair of Nordic patrollers came by at around 4:30 in the afternoon and saw me standing there on my skis in a T shirt. I'm sure they thought I would need rescuing in short order until I explained that I was camping out.
I wouldn't go out alone on my first snow trip though.Dec 9, 2012 at 12:05 am #1934228David OlsenSpectator
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
Not in avalanche territory.Dec 9, 2012 at 5:15 am #1934243John S.BPL Member
How would you determine avalanche territory? I've seen enormous damage from avalanche in a forested valley in June (Weminuche). Can you always avoid avalanche if the conditions are right anywhere in the mountains?
A few things to do may be to check with rangers about the area history of avalanche, know what conditions to look for (recent large snows?), checking with avalanche sites about risk for a given area. Anything else? I have taken no avalanche courses.Dec 9, 2012 at 7:44 am #1934261Mike MBPL Member
there are usually sites that will advise on avalanche conditions, some are complete w/ maps (at least Montana, would suspect the same in other states)- doesn't substitute for avalanche training, but can help you avoid known risksDec 9, 2012 at 8:30 am #1934265Bogs and BergsMember
I'm sure we'd all like to hear this fellow's story:
On November 15 he went hunting alone in the Manitoba woods, was given up for lost, and yesterday he walked out. There are plenty of places in Canada where being alone in the woods in winter is just normal behaviour. Knowledge is everything, and gear is not a substitute. I'll put my money on the well-informed person, over the well-equipped, every time.Dec 9, 2012 at 9:23 am #1934275Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
To me it isn't the season that matters, it is one's level of experience in those particular conditions. If you already have considerable experience in the kind of conditions you are going into, then I don't think it is unreasonable to go solo. If you lack experience, then getting that experience in a group is a better way, although you can also gain experience by going out solo but not going far. Doing your first snow camping solo 100 yards from the road is a good way to try it out, because you know you can bail if things go wrong.
But this kind of thinking does have to be left behind:
"Doing solo in the summer has its dangers but its usually only a few hours until someone walks along the trail ANYWAY so I figure if I get hurt someone will just find me on the trail."
There are plenty of places where this is a dangerous attitude in the summer as well, places where you need to be prepared mentally and physically and gear-wise to help yourself because no one is going to happen to pass by. Winter conditions just make that apply to more areas.
As to the mention of avalanche danger, yes, there are places where, under the worst conditions, it is not safe to go – solo or not. Being with a group affords some slight advantage – you might get dug out before you die – but frankly, it ain't much. Being in a group will not prevent your being caught in an avalanche, nor will carrying a beacon, shovel and probe. The only way to prevent that is by your choice of where and when you go. The safe choice is not to travel in risky terrain when the risk is high. Wait for conditions to improve or find safer terrain. Of course, the safer terrain may be no fun to ski, and that is one reason people are tempted to go out when they really shouldn't. So that is not dependent on being solo – it's a mtter of knowledge and judgement.Dec 9, 2012 at 10:36 am #1934290Charles PSpectator
I have two young kids so the thought of spending 14 hours in a sleeping bag curled up reading, watching movies, etc. sounds amazing and luscious. Never snow camped before but its my mission to try it this winter.Dec 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm #1934307spelt with a tBPL Member
@speltLocale: Rangeley, ME
Doing your first snow camping solo 100 yards from the road is a good way to try it out, because you know you can bail if things go wrong.
With respect, as someone getting into only my second season of winter camping, unless a person has terrific willpower, making a bailout just a bit more inconvenient is preferable in my opinion. The risk is still lower, but the temptation to bail is reduced. Part of safety in winter is figuring out your limits tempwise and getting your insulation and its configuration down. That's hard to do if it's 1 AM, you're getting uncomfortable, and the car is a hop, skip, and a jump away. Better to stick it out and learn something, which is much easier for me to do when I've deliberately made the walk out inconvenient. A half-mile or mile is plenty, and still close enough to civilization should anything go seriously wrong.Dec 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm #1934328David OlsenSpectator
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
"How would you determine avalanche territory? I've seen enormous damage from avalanche in a forested valley in June (Weminuche). Can you always avoid avalanche if the conditions are right anywhere in the mountains? "
If you don't know, don't go.
The terrain mostly dictates where avalanches occur.
Pretty much any mountainous area with snow.
Take a class. practice your skills, and take partners who do the same.Dec 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm #1934342Chad MillerMember
@chadnscLocale: Duluth, Minnesota
I've been solo winter backpacking for a few years now and while it can be a bit more challenging going solo I've found that if you have the proper gear, skills, and mindset you'll be just fine.
I should preference this statement by letting people know that I had a solid base of three season solo backpacking (five years or so) before I ventured out on winter trips.Dec 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm #1934349Mark VerberBPL Member
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
> If you don't know, don't go.
+1 to dave's response about avalanche territory… though for some people, "winter" doesn't have the risk because the terrain is too flat to have avalanche or it never accumulates enough snow to be a risk.
–MarkDec 10, 2012 at 5:54 am #1934452
Been doing that for years and sometimes take my old snowmobile to places snow shoers/skiers can't reach. Luckily, the old thing starts even in sub zero temps. Groups are a whole lot more fun, talking and sitting around the kitchen late and in the morning for breakfast. Gear makes all the difference. Not much snow last year, so it wasn't the greatest. I go out every month of the year bping, at least 3 out of the last four years. I worry more about my hands/fingers getting cold and then not being able to do anything.
DuaneDec 10, 2012 at 8:37 am #1934483Bob GrossBPL Member
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"Been doing that for years and sometimes take my old snowmobile to places snow shoers/skiers can't reach."
That's awfully hard to imagine.
–B.G.–Dec 10, 2012 at 9:45 am #1934501j lanMember
Mountainous terrain is a whole different ball game. Learn how to use an ice axe, practice tons of times with tons of people. Take avalanche 1 and 2 training. Learn to use your beacon and snow probe and shovel. Even then, 1 wrong step and it's game over. 3 minutes without oxygen, kaput.
If you are flatlanding it. Bring warmer clothes and sleeping bag than you need. Know how to start a fire in the snow. Bring nalgenes to warm up your bag and keep unfrozen water available. Dehydration is easy in winter. Take off clothes before you start sweating and dry off before you put them back on. Have pad/pads with an R rating of 5 or above. Tell everyone where you are going and when you are coming back. Heck, even stay in cell range if you can.
Try out your system in your backyard first if it is cold enough.
Good luck!Dec 10, 2012 at 10:29 am #1934516
Well, taking the snowmobile isn't exactly bping I guess. Still, I get out, using my old stoves the last few years, that makes it more fun, even for solo trips. There wasn't enough snow last year to ride my sled.
DuaneDec 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm #1934556Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
"A half-mile or mile is plenty, and still close enough to civilization should anything go seriously wrong."
I'm not sure I agree with that. In good weather, and with a clear route (like a groomed ski trail), sure. But in a blizzard at midnight a mile is an awful long way. And I am talking about a first time. If you are cold and it's getting colder and you don't know what to do to get warmer, and you are not with a more experienced person who can help, I'm not sure how much more you're going to learn by sticking it out. You already know you're doing something wrong or have brought the wrong gear. And the distance from uncomfortable to dangerous is very short in the winter.Dec 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm #1934565
Some of the North CA group I bp with and myself have had to snowshoe out from Lake Winnemucca on the Carson Pass after 2 feet of snow had dumped on us. Not so bad in the more open areas where the wind blew half of it away, but in the sheltered meadows, took 40 minutes to go 100 yards thru near waist deep snow. I, being the oldest got to break trail for the younger crowd, no one offered to spell me. Then the SnoPark we parked in had not been plowed, so after shoveling all day, we left close to 5 that night.
DuaneDec 11, 2012 at 11:34 am #1934772Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
… done that several times.
But now that I'm a geezer I think I'll do it only when I carry a SPOT beacon. Too many truly experienced hikers have died in the outback near Las Vegas in the past
several years due to plain ol' accidents like falling, etc.
Seems fate does not aleays recognize experience. And then there's always Murphy and his cousin O' Toole.Dec 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm #1938207James RatzloffBPL Member
I tend to go to higher elevations in November and April/May – 10 to 11000 feet – still can be pretty wintry. In the coldest months, December through March, I enjoy myself more if I stay at midelevations in Colorado – 8000 to 9000 feet. It is best when snow is on the ground. I have to admit it would be tough going without the campfire to take the chill off in the evening and early morning.
I go solo but take a spot GPS in case of an emergency – probably will never have to use it. I have found that a small tent holds my heat and my border collie's heat – makes a real difference. I also use an inflatable mat to get up off the ground.
This Thursday is a full moon – the best time to head up in the winter, considering the 14 hours of darkness.Jan 27, 2013 at 5:28 am #1947596Derrick WhiteBPL Member
I solo backpack all year round in Labrador, Canada, including winter, and then mostly snowshoe hiking. Practical safety always applies: a means to signal if necessary (DeLorme InReach for me and pen flares); suitable clothes and shelter to stay warm and dry (especially in winter if you get storm bound for days); and food. To accomplish the last two my base weight goes up considerably in winter. Coldest I've slept out in is -24C/-18F without wind chill.
As to avoiding number 1, the need to signal for help, your risk increases dramatically when you lack local knowledge of where you are hiking, especially in remote areas where there are no other hikers or passers by and you are plodding around on snow in places you have never been. Going solo will always entail greater risk, and consequently demand greater care and caution if you wish to be safe.
The gear you need is very context dependant. What works in a New England winter might be wholly inadequate in northern Canada, and vice versa. Likewise between trail hiking and backcountry expeditioning.
There are no magic bullets.
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