Monday, January 13, 2014

What to do if caught in a whiteout during a day hike with children

Always remain aware of the weather so that you don't get caught in a
snowstorm or whiteout conditions. Photo courtesy of Charles Rondeau.
When day hiking in the mountains or in a northern state during winter, you always risk getting caught in a whiteout. Knowing how to walk through it can be vital to your survival.

A whiteout occurs when snow falls so fast that you literally can’t see the ground let alone a few feet in front of you. In this disoriented state, hikers easily can get lost and exhaust themselves trying to find their way.

Remaining aware of the weather and not hiking when snow is forecast always is advised to avoid a whiteout. Still, especially in the mountains with its many microclimates, a snowstorm – and whiteout conditions – can surprise you.

As soon as snow begins to fall, turn back. Continuing to walk when the odds favor more rather than less snow falling only invites disaster.

If a whiteout is rising around you and you’re near a makeshift shelter or your vehicle – “near” meaning you still can see it – immediately get inside and wait to hike when visibility improves.

Should no shelter be in sight, quickly construct one. A hastily dug snow cave or a tree well shelter will help keep you out of the wind and provide you some warmth. Indeed, the best thing to do in a whiteout is to simply stay put in a shelter.

If you must walk, have each member of the party hold hands as you walk toward your destination. Children easily can get lost in the piling snow, so you don’t want longer legged members of your party reaching the shelter only to find someone who is younger still are out there – somewhere.

Also, take careful, measured steps, especially since you can’t see. You don’t want to fall and get snow inside your clothing. The wet and cold will increase the chances of you suffering hypothermia. In addition, you definitely don’t want to suffer an injury from a fall, as you’re already battling the elements. If in a sloped area, as you walk toss a snowball slightly ahead of you as a way of measuring the slope’s angle.

Finally, as walking, protect your face. This means covering your mouth and nose so wind and snow doesn’t strike them.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.