Search And Rescue – Mountain Safety In The Fall

Fraser Valley – The following write-up was originally posted By Chilliwack Search and Rescue in September 2015, but after seeing the first snow on the Coquihalla and the Okanagan Connector, this would be a good fresher.

Chilliwack is lucky to have a plethora of mountains, trails and backcountry to enjoy within a short, scenic drive. Fall is a popular time to enjoy the mountains to take in the color changes, clear skies and excellent views, especially as road traffic has calmed down (while trails remain in great condition), and hot and uncomfortable days have given way to more bearable weather for outdoor activities. As the leaves and weather change, however, fall also brings about some new challenges that can make this time of year more dangerous. Considerations and ‘to dos’ to help get prepared and stay safe:

  • Check the local weather forecasts. Be aware that weather systems vary greatly from region to region, especially comparing mountains to the sunny valley. It may feel like summer at the base but may feel like winter at the summit.
  • Pay attention to the sunrise/sunset times for the destination and note how this affects the temperature. Factor in elevation when considering the temperature too; for every 300m increase, temperature drops approximately 1 degree (C).
  • The days get shorter, much shorter, and darkness and cold temperatures can approach fast. Plan and prepare for dark and cold.
  • Throughout the year weather systems vary and this is especially notable in fall. Cold, and sometimes wet, weather can approach quickly and sometimes hold fast for days, or at least for a cold and miserable night.
  • While there are fewer fair-weather tourists in the backcountry, many avid outdoor enthusiasts remain, including hunters. Be aware of the area you’re entering, seek out local knowledge and pay attention to posted signs, wildlife and other indications of hunting areas.
  • Be aware that with fewer people on the trails and back roads there will be fewer people to offer assistance if it’s required
  • Check the weather forecasts
  • Days are considerably shorter as the season progresses. Spend time looking into the trail/route and the expected trip time, then do the math on the start time, the duration of the hike and the remaining daylight.
  • Many road barricades and gates are closed later in the season, which can unexpectedly make hiking trails considerably longer
  • Be realistic about your own, and group members’, abilities. Consider the overall conditioning level of all people involved when estimating your speed.
  • Check the weather forecasts
  • Trail foliage can hinder the otherwise well-beaten path networks that are more easily identifiable in summer. Use a GPS map to track your journey; you may need to follow it for your return.
  • Despite cooler temperatures, dehydration and sunburns remain factors to consider
  • Check the… do we need to say it…weather forecasts
  • Be mindful of avalanche associated risks when encountering snowy conditions at higher elevations. It may be new snow, unstable snow remaining from previous seasons or new snow on last seasons’ snow.
  • Don’t rely on your phone. Definitely bring it along, but cell reception can vary, maps may not be thorough, the GPS function may not be accurate and the battery will eventually die. Sometimes help can be difficult to contact and rescue efforts can be inhibited as darkness approaches. Don’t assume your phone will get you out of a tough situation.
  • All great mountain men and women know “Getting to the top is optional, getting to the bottom is mandatory”. Make wise decisions out there.

As much as CSAR members love to get out on tasks, taking precautions can make your trip more enjoyable and safe, and keep the team from rescuing you. Preparedness includes having the right knowledge and gear and this extends to every person in the group. Invest in good quality, layered clothing options, including a waterproof layer. Have a functional GPS and know how to use it (including having maps loaded for the destination). Flashlights and GPSs are as only as good as the batteries inside, so bring spares. A map and compass can be the most valuable tools in an outdoor pack; familiarize yourself with how to use them before you leave. Food and water are essential and be sure to bring more than you think you’ll need.

Should anything posted here sound unfamiliar, consider looking into group trips with outdoor clubs or otherwise more seasoned individuals. Not only can they increase your own safety, they can be a good resource for equipment, trail and destination knowledge.

CSAR wants people to enjoy the great area we have available, all year round, but please be prepared and make good decisions.

Courtesy Chilliwack SAR


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