With the calendar and weather changing from summer into fall and then winter, many people think that access to the backcountry will have to wait until the next summer when warmer temperatures and less extreme conditions return. The fact is, that with proper planning and the right equipment, one can enjoy the backcountry year round. There are many advantages to heading out into the wilderness during the fall and winter months. One will generally find less crowds and be able to enjoy the natural solitude of the backcountry. Fall and winter allow you to experience the backcountry in a totally new way. The fall colors in the mountains are absolutely breathtaking when fall is in full bloom. And there is a certain perfection that can only be experienced when winter covers the terrain in a fresh blanket of pristine snow. Finally, with the proper preparation and training, one can take their climbing skills and confidence to whole new levels. The first step to enjoying year round backcountry adventures, is to make the decision that the change of weather doesn’t need to cancel your plans.
In October, below tree line one can find a beautiful fall day with trees covered in brilliant red, yellow, and orange colors; while above tree line can have full blown winter conditions. Hiking in the backcountry involves constantly evaluating our conditions, both internal and external. We are constantly asking a series of questions in order to evaluate the risk compared to the reward. How do we feel? Can we push on, or are we too tired, too cold, or too thirsty to safely continue? What is the terrain? Is there avalanche danger, are storms threatening, and is there enough daylight left to safely finish? Lastly, we need to ask ourselves, is our skill level and equipment appropriate for our current conditions? But, even before we get out into the backcountry, we need to decide that what month it is does not mean we need to shelter indoors until spring. This first decision is the key to unlock a whole new world
Once we have made the decision to venture out into the fall and winter months, we need to do things differently than we do during spring and summer. Over the next few posts, we will learn how we can prepare ourselves before, during and after our trip to the backcountry. We will look at how to evaluate conditions, determine safe routes, and the gear and skills necessary to safely enjoy the mountains. Whether or not we remain in the tree line and enjoy the beauty of forested trails, or venture above into rugged mountain terrain, the solitude and challenge of the backcountry is a rewarding and exhilarating challenge. The first step is for us to decide that the backcountry is accessible in all four seasons. Once we make that choice, we open the door to a whole new experience that will continue help us to learn about ourselves and push our limits of who we want to be.