Who needs an off-season? Take on the challenge with Colorado mountain guide Jason Antin’s top tips for alpine travel in the fourth season.
1) KNOW THE REAL FORECAST.
Local weather reports often predict conditions around the base of a peak, not the summit, but temps usually drop by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 vertical feet you gain. Antin uses Mountain-Forecast.com, which offers predictions for various elevations. Plan for the lows, not the highs, and check for both precip and wind speed. Consistent winds over 25 mph? Consider rescheduling.
2) INTERPRET PRE-TRIP WEATHER.
Antin starts checking the forecast for his objective at least a week in advance to get a sense of how much ice or snow he might be dealing with. (Rule of thumb: After two days at 50°F, you’ll lose 2 to 4 inches of snow, which could be the difference between snowshoes and bare boots.) And if you see subfreezing temps after a warm spell,
expect ice. Depending on slope angle and mode of travel, you’ll want crampons, ski crampons, or mini spikes, and an ice axe for steep snow.
3) STAY ON TRACK.
Snow covers more than just trails—it can also bury cairns and other landmarks you might use to navigate. That means you’ll want some sort of GPS or nav app to supplement your map and compass. (Antin relies on his phone as his primary navigation and recommends the Gaia GPS app.) Keep your gadgets in a chest pocket of your baseor midlayer to preserve battery life.
4) AVOID AVALANCHE TERRAIN.
Download Gaia’s Slope Overlay (premium subscription required) or use the same tool for pre-trip planning in CalTopo (free), and avoid hiking on or directly below yellow, orange, red, or blue slopes, which indicate angles between 30 and 50 degrees, on days with considerable to high avy danger (see right).
5) BE PREPARED TO BE ALONE.
Solitude is great, but it means your group’s on your own if you get into trouble. Antin recommends traveling with at least one buddy and getting trained in first-aid (take a WFR course, or BACKPACKER’s online class at backpacker.com/wilderness-firstaid). On more committing hikes, Antin carries a small shelter and a stove, just in case. “If you get stuck, daylight might be as many as 16 hours away,” he says.
7) KNOW WHEN TO RETREAT.
Does the terrain feel above your pay grade? Turn back. Insufficient food or water? Ditto. Frostbite is also a risk. Make sure you can feel and wiggle your toes, and for cold hands take this test: Touch your thumb to your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers in that order to make sure you still have full motion in each. If not, call it.