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10591Weather Expectations & Planning

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  • ned@mountaineducation.org
    Sep 1, 2010
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      We all know that mountains create their own weather. As a collective body, we have lots of personal experience on-trail in the High Sierra where the weather has changed dramatically within a few hours. We, also, know that you may experience snow in any given month there.
       
      So, why not just prepare for the worst and hope for the best? Why do we choose to trust the statistical averages found on-line somewhere, then, based on that, decide to bring whatever gear, clothing, and food that will get us through that degree of anticipated weather condition?
       
      For example, and not to be too redundant, say the statistics state that it is usually warm and dry up there when we want to take our hike, so we select sleeping bags rated to that warm standard, clothing that is light and thin for the "warm weather," and just enough food to get us through from one end to the other. Is this in order to optimistically carry the lightest pack?
       
      OK, we're smarter than that, because we are aware that it can rain in the summer, so we carry a poncho and maybe another layer of clothing--just in case. That's good preparation. So, what happens to "Joe Hiker" when the weather suddenly takes a turn worse than rain and the air temps fall into the twenty's, the wind kicks up because of the pressure gradient change, and it starts dumping snow? He suffers. As a collective body, we need to advise hikers to consider history. That's wisdom.
       
      I guess this is the great trade-off:  either be prepared and have a large and heavier pack (and have to deal with the fact that you didn't have to carry all that stuff because the circumstances didn't require it after the trip) or just deal with a short-term freezing experience that can kill you while having a lighter pack for the longer term.
       
      Is Planning and Preparation just coming down to "the odds?" Are we all so willing to risk enduring a health and safety crisis like hypothermia because, if you survive it, it doesn't usually last long compared to all those hours and days enjoying hiking with a lighter pack? Who can say how much time you're going to have to suffer rain, snow, dehydration, or starvation on your next trip--statistics? Plan for the worst and hope for the best and have a great time out there.
       
      Why not just be a little wiser, maturely acknowledging that "the s___ can hit the fan" at any given moment, and plan on dealing with it and preparing for it by carrying what it takes to safely experience these aspects of mountain life in a warm and dry setting with lots of food and water? Yes, you'll have to carry more stuff, but it doesn't have to be the heaviest versions--just make sure they'll take the expected punishment while keeping you warm and safe.
       
      Hey, you can even look at this choice for a lack of realistic preparation for these obvious changes in weather conditions from the Search and Rescue point of view. When you deliberately put yourself in jeopardy, by not preparing for the worst, and suddenly find yourself there and need outside help, you are putting other people's lives in the same jeopardy in order to save you.
       
      Oh, well.... Hike Your Own Hike, right?
       
      Yes, some of this is self-discovery, finding out who you are, what you like, what you can get by without, how strong you are, and so forth, but aren't we supposed to learn from those who have gone before us (History and Common Sense)?
       
      I just don't get why we strive for the lightest pack (by not bringing all that stuff that will help me get through what may never happen anyway) at the expense of our safety under the statistical-odds-assurance that "it doesn't usually happen" or "it didn't happen when I was there last."
       
      Strive for the lightest pack that you can have, but be prepared (for the worst so that you don't have a bad experience, suffer for it, or cause others to suffer from your decisions).
       
      Make sure, before you leave, that the lighter fabric rain gear you have is durable enough to last, the tent you're carrying can take horizontal rain and you'll still stay warm and dry or has the strength to withstand a foot of wet snow piled up on top, the shoes you wear will keep you warm, dry, and protected, and the bag you've chosen is more than warm enough should the temps plummet (you can always sleep underneath it). If you have considered all that may happen and have found a proven way to you to be adequately prepared where you know that your health and safety will not be jeopardized (or be jeopardized to a level that you can endure through), then you have planned responsibly. 
       
      However, some will always opt for the odds, figure "they can make it through," and choose to hike unprepared for the "less likely." Sometimes we hear of their "misfortune-fortune," as if it was just chance that they had to survive what they did, but not usually. I guess because we live in the mountains and serve on two Sheriff's Department's Search and Rescue Units that we see more of these sad situations than most.
       
      Oh, well. What happened to "Common Sense," anyway?
       
      We all know that mountains create their own weather....
       
       

      Ned Tibbits, Director
      Mountain Education
      1106A Ski Run Blvd
      South Lake Tahoe, Ca. 96150
          P: 888-996-8333
          F: 530-541-1456
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          http://www.mountaineducation.org
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