Planning your route, and taking into consideration your fitness, length of the tour, weather, conditions, forecasts and unforeseen challenges, will enable you to get the most out of your trip.
People often find it hard to accept that our experiences in the mountains will be based on the conditions presented to us, not on our expectations or how good a rider we are. You can’t change the conditions – Mother Nature is in charge of that. Last week we discussed Step 1 in the Daily Process – Get the Forecast. You then need to select an objective that suits the conditions that you expect to encounter. In Australia we have a wide variety of potential hazards which demand our respect, including ice, avalanche, wind, visibility and varying snow conditions.
Route planning should take into account first and foremost the overall abilities of the group, terrain, aspect, altitude, distance to be travelled, along with weather factors. How strong has the wind been and from what direction? What precipitation last fell, at what altitude? What impact will the sun have? - There is no point heading to a bullet-proof south aspect early morning after a melt-freeze cycle the day before. Consult a good topographic map (many online versions available these days).
Have a Plan B. If conditions deteriorate unexpectedly between planning and travel, be prepared to postpone or cut short your trip. From experience we can say, it is not worth battling a blizzard or other brutal conditions! Better to save the trip for a more favourable day. Also have a lower risk alternative route you can switch to if things are worse than expected while you are out there.
Human factors and group management have become a focal point of avalanche and backcountry skills training. So who is in your group? A larger group can become difficult to manage. What experience do they have, what training have they done, what equipment do they have, what are their expectations and objectives? Good communication at an early stage is essential. Make sure you are all on the same page!
Be ready to deal with a self-rescue situation if you have an injury or a gear malfunction in your group. For that reason, it is best to travel with at least two others. Calling 000 should only happen when you cannot get back to the trailhead without external assistance. Emergency services will take many hours to get assistance out to a remote backcountry location.
Always let someone who cares know your intentions and let them know when you are back safe. This includes your intended route, number of participants, expected time of return and description of the vehicle you will leave at the trailhead. A responsible friend who might be able to organise assistance rather than relying on emergency services is ideal. Submit an intention form online in NSW with National Parks https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/trip-intention-form and at Mt Hotham and Mt Stirling at their Ski Patrol HQ.
Next week: Step 3 - Check Your Gear