7 Important Questions to Ask Before Traveling in the Backcountry

As you begin what hopefully is a long, exciting life pursuing different mountain peaks, it is important that you start off on the right foot. Being conscious of several key elements will greatly improve your chances of a smooth running trip. We compiled a list of questions that you should ask yourself and everyone in the party before leaving. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, maybe reconsider the timing of this trip and head out when you can confidently answer all of these with a “yes”.  Doing so will not only be safer, but a lot more enjoyable as well.

1. Does someone know our group’s itinerary?
Giving someone a detailed route description with approximate times of where you’ll be at each spot could be a life saver if things go wrong. Find someone that you trust and tell them the day and time that you are expected back. If you do not call them by the pre-arranged time, they can call the authorties to look for you in case something unexpected occurs. Print out a map and trace your route; also provide waypoints if possible. This will help the search and rescue look for you much more efficiently.

2. Do we have enough food and water?
Not only enough food to eat, but the right kind? Studies have shown that you should eat 40-50% carbs, 25-35% protein, and 20-30% fat. Depending on your size and how much your heart will be beating, it is advisable to eat between 3 and 5 thousand calories per day. Doing the research will pay off when you are on your trip, as the mindful planning of your food intake will result in better energy and muscle efficiency.

3. Is this suitable for all members of the party?
If one person is uncomfortable with the route you have planned, then the trip will not be fun for anyone. More experienced people in the group will become frustrated waiting for someone who cannot keep up. It is important to consider everyone’s abilities when deciding where to go. It is also important for all members to be completely honest with what level they are at. If someone overpromises what they can do, they can put the entire group at risk if they cannot get through a difficult section along the way.

4. Are we prepared for all weather conditions?
The mountain weather can change in an instant. It is important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions, no matter the season. Even in the summertime, the mountains can produce snowy, winter-like conditions. Always ensure that you have layers that you can both add on and take off as needed. Cotton material should be avoided close to the body, and always have a waterproof layer on top. Here in southwest British Columbia, the planning portion just got a whole lot easier with a great new site – www.whistlerpeak.com. It has fantastic imagery and data from several sources, making it the most comprehensive site for weather planning for mountain enthusiasts.

5. Did I pack efficiently?
The heaviest gear should be placed at the core area of the body, between the hips and shoulder blade area of where the pack should sit. For heavier packs you would want heavier items slighly lower so that your center of gravity is at a point where you are stable at varying slope angles.

6. Do we have the right equpment?
Regardless of what technologic equipment you have, there is no substitution for a map and compass. You should not only have them on you, but know how to use them to navigate. GPS units are great, but they can malfunction and do not work in poor weather. Relying on them might be a dangerous habit. In the winter and spring it is also important to carry snow study equipment so that you can accurately gauge whether the snowpack is at an adequate stability for safe travel. Be sure to take an avalanche safety course so that you understand what to look for, and how to use the equipment. A first aid kit is also essential, and depending on the length of the trip and how far removed you are from help, you should have the corresponding gear and experience. Always plan for a worst-case scenario in case someone is incapacitated to the point they cannot safely travel on their own. At least one person should have taken a first aid course to be sure that if 911 is not an option, you know what to do.

7. Do we have proper knowledge?
Is this a route that you do every day, in weather conditions that you are familiar with? Or are you in a foreign area and unfamiliar with your surroundings? This question is important to consider how much preparation and questioning you need to ask. If it is an unknown territory, you should have much more preparation — asking locals, and ensuring that you know all the local flora and fauna and survival techniques that are unique to the area you are travelling.These 7 tips will not be foolproof for safety in the mountains, but mindfulness of all situations and adequate preparation will substantially minimize your risk. Less risk = more fun, and after all, it is the fun and freedom that brings us into the mountains time and time again.

By Steve Andrews