Learning Curve: A Shoulder Season Reminder

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Learning Curve: A Shoulder Season Reminder

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
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  • #3687772
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    BPL columnist Maggie Slepian reminds new and old hands alike to prepare for shoulder-season backpacking accordingly.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Maggie, thanks for the story and photos. Beautiful mountains. I live in Nevada so have seen a few mountains too – like every day, but they are mostly desert mountains.

    As for your tent and the snow. Since I do “3 1/2 season” backpacking I choose tents that have, by their design, some wind & snow resistance.

    My true winter tent is a modified Tarptent Moment DW with a shortened Crossing Pole run under the fly. But my 3 season tent is a Tarptent Notch Li with the “solid’ inner tent using 2 hiking poles and 2 side guy lines. However… that does not means overnight snow won’t push in the sides of my tents as it slides off the fly. It’s just a fact of winter camping.

    I’d suggest you carry a pair of fleece “fingerless” gloves at a minimum, and a light fleece balaclava. The balaclava makes sleeping more comfortable as well as being a safety item.

    Sean P
    BPL Member


    Locale: S.E. Australia

    This is not a criticism of the author – I don’t know this trail, the weather in that part of the world or the author’s competence; which seems high.

    But, Am I too much of a retro grouch that I wouldn’t rely solely upon a phone as a nav device?

    They are great when they are working well but too fragile and unreliable in my estimation for shoulder season or where whiteout is a high risk.

    When I am up in the mountains I don’t think that it is packing my fears to have a map and compass and/or a gps watch/GPS in the event of phone battery death or phone incapacity.

    BPL Member


    Good read. I enjoy hearing/reading about adventure mishaps.. not making fun of or light of.. and definitely not some sick fettish.. but i think there is a lot one can learn from others mistakes. We all make them at one point or another and most likely they will happen when one becomes complacent…

    Thanks for posting and i too, really enjoy the photos with your writing.

    Edward John M
    BPL Member


    I forgot my stove once.
    The Wasp is so small it was missed when I packed up my pot set and gas canister.
    But changeable weather is why I have a light balaclava/gloves and UL mitten shells always in the top pocket of my rucksack. In fact I have several sets of such and keep one in each sack so I don’t forget

    BPL Member


    Locale: SE USA

    I love the author’s honesty here!

    She not only toughed it out, she did pretty well all things considered.  A good reminder to do what we’re supposed to do.

    And the photos are great!

    Eugene Hollingsworth
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Minnesota

    Good write up Maggie. Was “experience,” or should I say, “familiarity,”  somehow influencing your decision to neglect the weather forecasts? (rhetorical question, really)

    Great pictures, glad you got out w/o a hitch. Our equivalent of variable mountain weather is fall BWCA. I’ve had 70 deg at the start of the trip and breaking ice to canoe out after a few days, so I never take northern MN weather for granted. However I bet that going for a quick over night in an area like yours I could easily make the same mistake as you did.


    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I’ve encountered those temperatures 45 minutes up the hill from Seattle on the 4th of July. Weather forecasters are considered more like soothsayers than scientists  here. A 40% chance of rain means it will rain 40% of the day  .

    Everyone I know who was raised in Montana describes snowfall on 4th of July camping trips.  The Rockies are one of those places where the weather is made.


    I’m a freak for the Ten Essentials whenever traveling off pavement. All those emergency/survival items go in a zippered pouch for instant checklist free inclusion: if I have that pouch, I’m good to go.

    I use a poncho for rain gear when hiking and it goes with me on day hikes too. Makeshift shelter as well. I also take a space blanket bivy and enough light line to pitch the poncho.

    I always have that extra layer, like a fleece or puffy vest, and a wind shell is a given. For anything other than full summer, I add liner style gloves and a micro fleece beanie.

    There was a news story a couple years ago when there were some nasty wildfires on the Columbia Gorge and there were 100+ haft hikers who were cut off from the trailhead and had to take the long way out overnight to escape the fires. Only ONE person in that group had the right stuff to survive in the woods. The rest were mostly in tees and shorts and not a shred of the Essentials.


    Jenny A
    BPL Member


    Locale: Front Range

    I sheepishly confess that I can relate pretty well to this experience.  I have been backpacking in Colorado my entire life, but some years ago I did a quick overnight into the Indian Peaks Wilderness in late April of a warm and dry winter before overnight permit requirements kicked in.  A quick check of the weather forecast predicted wind and a chance of light snow…no biggie, especially since I was only going to be about 4 miles from the trailhead.

    Well, the storm moved in bringing that snow along with 70+mph winds.  My 3-season tent collapsed sometime during the night, and I ate a cold breakfast because the JetBoil kept blowing out.  The new water filter that I was all excited to try (the Sawyer Squeeze, which dates the experience) wasn’t very usable because snow and ice at 10,500 ft blocked access to free flowing water to treat.  It was a terrible night overall, and I feel fortunate to have gotten out a bit hungry and with only 3 bent tent poles, a rip in the fly, and a large dose of humility.

    I did have snowshoes and a good layering system, was familiar with the terrain, and was able to ration water to last for the 24 hours of the trip.  It was certainly “type 2” fun and emphasized for me the need to be familiar with new gear before heading out.   I gambled that conditions wouldn’t be as bad as was predicted and lost that bet.

    Tjaard Breeuwer
    BPL Member


    Locale: Minnesota, USA

    Good read, and pretty pictures!

    Joshua B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Indy

    Thanks for sharing!  I’ve experienced those kinds of changes with as little as 3,000 feet in increased elevation.  A hot water bottle (nalgene) is a good safety item for scenarios where you find your clothing/sleep system inadequate when the weather and everything else goes sideways.  Cradling a heat source in the fetal position, even if you are just wrapped in a plastic bag/tarp/poncho can save your life under some pretty extreme circumstances.

    Mike M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    I’ve had good luck with NOAA’s spot forecasts, but still err on the side of pessimism :)

    Last weekend the spot forecast lows were low teens, we woke to -8.

    Also have firsthand experience getting caught out in the Crazies.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    The northwestern US states are at the mercy of the Jetstream. It flails around like whipping a garden hose and lets warm air up from the south or an arctic blast from the north and effects whatever wetness is headed from Washington to Montana.

    A few years ago there was another weather radar installed on the Washington coast and that has improved the accuracy of the local forecasts quite a bit. The computer forecast models have improved as well.

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