If you enjoy exploring the great outdoors of it you happen to have a bug out plan that includes alpine journeys; there are a few things you should prepare for when traversing alpine terrain. This is a harsh, exhausting journey that requires proper planning and physical strength.
Your weary feet, sore from trekking all day over rugged alpine terrain, stumble clumsily. The route ahead meanders downward following boulder fields and stunted fir trees. Shoulders and hips gradually numb, the cumbersome mountaineering pack constricts circulation and fatigue dulls the senses.
You suddenly trip on loose shale, falling face first towards possible injury. This scenario commonly occurs among mountain backpackers. I’ve taken nasty falls, learning the value of a sturdy walking staff. Experienced wilderness trekkers travel when well rested and search for camp before acute fatigue sets in.
Planning your alpine journey
Long distance alpine journeys require a lot of planning. Personal logistics, weather, terrain, and ground cover dominate the subject. Only the physically fit should undertake wilderness travel. It takes considerable amounts of time to properly acclimate under high elevation conditions.
The wilderness lifeline is a well-stocked pack. Warm clothing, shelter, food, first aid kit, fire tools, knife, cook gear, and compass are essential survival elements. Light fish tackle, .22 survival gun, 50-foot paracord, maps, collapsible bow saw and the means to purify water are equally important.
Take enough food with you! This article discusses long distance mountain journeys, not the short day hike. The body requires thousands of high energy calories daily in order to maintain physical stamina at high elevations. Living off the land is an idea best left at home except during emergencies or recreation. Today’s outdoorsman would find difficulties maintaining enough energy from the sketchy food sources existing in most remaining wilderness alpine areas.
Wear boots that provide ample support and traction. I recommend high-quality footwear with anatomically designed soles. Dry wool socks are essential for healthy blister free feet, and you should pack several clean pairs.
Large sectors of primitive country demand off trail cross country travel. Topographic maps aid navigation through unknown or potentially dangerous terrain. Accurate compass work will prevent disorientation and unpleasant encounters with prohibitive terrain.
Remember: you carry only so much food; exhaustion is a killer.
Inexperienced eyes find those awesome crags above a seemingly impossible barrier. Does a route exist around the rock slides and icy snowfields? Navigable traverses reveal themselves with a careful study of topo map contours.
Mountain ranges test climbers with both the timberline and high alpine obstacles. Each one poses particular psychological and physical tribulations. Cross country mountaineering is definitely a rough experience.
Traveling high and low
We first discuss travel conditions prevailing within the lower brush and woodland elevations. The important thing to remember is that no two terrain or flora situations are identical. Fighting undergrowth demands considerable patience. North slopes and watersheds usually generate lush vegetation, particularly dense forest cover Sun exposed southern hillsides encourage fewer trees and thick brush jungles. Higher elevations frequently retard timber stand, opening sub-alpine meadows or rock outcrops.
What does this have to do with mountain travel? Take the path of least resistance. You carry a heavy pack that easily ensnares in the brush. Woodland obstacles require a lot of physical exertion to cross. Study the map and head for the high country. Ridge tops provide a clear view of travel conditions ahead.
Stay within mature timber stands in lower valleys where the reduced sunlight retards heavy undergrowth. Jumbles of deadfall logs compose the primary hindrance to foot travel. Utilize your walking staff to prevent falls and patiently work a route through the maze. Your compass can be a faithful guide
Beware: Entry into a former forest fire, new growth areas can be a nightmare!
Burn remains leave deadfall log mazes or regenerating tree thickets that seriously ensnare backpackers. Brush jungles cluster sunlit openings; at all cost avoid the agonizing toil necessary to cross these sites. I have one hint that may be helpful if your route lies across burn country. Severe winter weather conditions retard most vegetation in higher elevations, head for the ridge tops.
One potential forest zone death trap commands respect. Pay prudent attention when camping nearby or fording streams. Never bivouac on stream sand-bars or under large trees that storm winds could blow down. That seemingly innocent waterway becomes a dangerous torrent during spring thaw or bad weather.
Fording streams is relatively easy. However, heavily burdened packers should never take fast moving water lightly. Keep your boots dry by removing them unless safety commands otherwise. Waterproof pack perishables!
Unfasten your pack waist belt, a soggy pack has drowned many hikers. Face diagonally downstream towards the opposite shore and cross, utilizing the walking staff as an anchor.
Ford, the current along shallow riffles, positioned above or below deep pools. Beware of slippery bottom rock surfaces. Use that 50-foot paracord. Tied to a tree, it becomes your safety tow line. Don’t tackle flooded channels without due forethought. Death awaits beneath those surging waters. Never take unnecessary wilderness risks!
Toss a rope end with attached weight around objects on the opposite bank to create a safe line. Felled trees could span the torrent building a natural bridge. That deadfall log upstream provides the perfect natural traverse, however wet wood surfaces are slippery!
The strong cord you carry will tie together a pressure bar raft as a last resort. I highly recommend the plans published in the military survival manuals. Thoroughly study the stream and currents before committing the raft to a fording.
Related article: The Challenges Of Fording When Venturing Into The Wilderness
You encounter constantly changing alpine experiences as the ascent proceeds and obstacles are overcome. Timber stands begin to open, revealing sub-alpine meadows, the footing becomes easier.
Ensnarling jungles of scrub trees and brush choke avalanche paths.
Thinning oxygen gradually becomes apparent by your laboring lungs as the ascent continues. Take time to acclimatize; overexertion could lead to potentially fatal altitude sickness. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and disorientation. Immediate descent to lower elevations with rest usually produces rapid relief.
How long does it take to acclimate?
I’ve found that it’s always taken at least 70 miles of continuous mountain marching over a period of a week to adjust to high elevation conditions. Start with an easy rate of five miles a day or less, and build physical endurance. Bearing heavy packs across mountainous terrain demands patience and a steady pace.
Always watch for ground hazards in order to avoid nasty falls. Once again, use your trusty walking stick, a broken leg could be the result of that unforeseen accident! Take care of yourself, the nearest constructed trail system of emergency services could be 20 miles from your position.
Conserve body energy by ascending or descending steep slopes in a switchback manner. The distance to the top may be longer, but the amount of strength necessary to traverse the distance is considerably less. Utilize small trees, shrubs, and solid rock to help steady footing. The timberline retreats below, meadows become arctic tundra, the heights above reveal rock slides, precipitous crags, avalanche paths descending from snowfields and glaciers. As you approach technical mountaineering country, stop, study the map and situation before acting. One faulty move could be fatal.
Glaciers and snowfields are extremely dangerous, particularly during spring thaw. Crevasses frequently lie hidden under thin surface layers of snow crust. Avalanches can occur at any time of year, especially along steep slopes.
Be cautious when traversing vertical snowfields. I’ve personally taken several frightening slides down frozen surfaces. Fractures or worse happen annually to trekkers who lose their footing. My best advice is don’t cross any terrain you aren’t absolutely sure of. If a fall does occur, dig into the frozen surface any way possible and slow your rate of descent.
Always pay attention to each step, thoroughly check each foothold before committing your body weight, and moving forward. Remain calm, rest when necessary, traversing hazardous terrain while fatigued is deadly.
Boot crampons, ice axes, and rope help prevent falls. If you travel with companions, rope each other off for team security. There’s a lot be said for the buddy system.
On bright sunny days, prolonged exposure to intense light rays can lead to snow blindness. Polaroid glasses or black grease under the eyes help alleviate this condition. A blind man in the wilderness automatically becomes lost. Choose early morning or late afternoon hours to cross glaciers, the glare is considerably weaker.
Watch your step, the route leading upward towards that craggy pass spans unstable boulder slides. Loose rubble easily upsets, anyone hiking such ground instantly realizes how simple it is to get hurt. Don’t dislodge rocks upon companions climbing up from below, head injuries are among the worst accidents. High winds or fluctuating temperatures cause rock falls from unstable outcrops. Always watch the ground overhead.
Related article: 8 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes Most People Make
You conquer the pass, an incredible alpine panorama unfolds, glaciated peaks extend, range upon range, seemingly forever. The night’s campsite clearly radiates itself as sun rays reflect like diamonds off a tiny, pristine lake snuggled in a hollow glacial terrain. A short cut considerably shortens the distance, but the way is partially obstructed by a precipitous granite wall.
Warning: cliffs aren’t to be meddled with by novices!
It’s very easy to get trapped on a seemingly one-way traverse with no apparent escape. This could become very unpleasant when you’re 20 miles from possible rescuers. Don’t move before you are calm and able to think clearly. You are on your own.
Barometric changes are noticeable, rising winds and seething clouds rapidly mount promising a nasty thunderstorm. Mountain weather is unstable regardless of the season. Immediately seek shelter, the ridge tops are dangerously exposed to lighting. Avoid hypothermia. Alpine winds are cold, make sure your warm clothes are kept dry.
Common everyday primitive environmental living demands proper hygiene. Avoid various forms of dysentery by maintaining clean eating habits and drinking pure water. Always be wary of wilderness waters, even that pristine rivulet descending from those snowfields above could host Giardiasis cysts. This pathogen is being widely spread by unsanitary campers and animals. Remember to carry the means of water purification with you.
If lost during your alpine journeys
What does a person do when they become lost?
Everyone is their own worst enemy during a survival crisis. Stay calm and above all, avoid panic. Few North American regions except Alaska or Canada are located without intersecting traveled routes within 20 or 30 air miles.
Climb a high point with a clear view, study the major landscapes and map. In mountain country, the watersheds usually descend toward inhabited or trailed valleys. Many wilderness experts believe in the theory of directly following a stream towards the hoped-for crossroads. This is fine in the low-land woodlands, but in the hills, water-sheds frequently flow through nasty gorges.
First, take stock of your food supplies, then head along a ridge and follow that creek with a clear view of the forward terrain. The ultimate decision is yours whether to move or await rescue.
A last word
Our wild areas increasingly attract people who search for freedom in the spirit of self-reliance. Open your eyes to wilderness education and head for the mountains. The high country has historically always been a place of refuge during times of social upheaval.