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Snowshoe touring techniques for the backcountry

Wintertime cousin of hiking offers fun avenue to peaceful getaway
The Bulletin
By Deanna Darr
January 7, 1999

Off the main roads, and even off the main trails, lies a world of startling beauty. Encased in snow, ordinary surroundings take on a new aura - looking more like a fairy-tale setting than the wilderness of Central Oregon.

This beauty, though, protects itself. While stunning, snow is also a formidable obstacle, allowing only the most determined to witness its most pristine splendor.

Mankind's habit of pushing beyond boundaries has led to the innovation of various methods to reach the back country and sneak a peak at the untrodden territory.

Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are still popular methods of breaking away from the groomed trail system. But snowshoeing is quickly gaining ground in the field of getting away from it all.

"It's amazing how much snowshoeing is taking off," said Chris Sabo, winter trail programs coordinator for the Bend/Fort Rock Ranger District.

"It's the winter version of hiking," he said. "People want an activity that doesn't require a lot of skill."

Robert Speik, a local mountaineer who teaches both mountaineering and wilderness survival classes at Central Oregon Community College, called snowshoeing a "wonderful alternative to cross country skiing" that can enable hikers to get out during the winter. 

A snowshoer for about 30 years himself, Speik said back-country snowshoeing is a particular love of his.

"Snow is a constantly changing medium," he said, adding that trekking through the back country, allows him to enjoy not only the beauty of the snow-draped landscape, but also the quiet and solitude of the wilderness in winter.

Micheale Giesler, vice president of the Central Oregon Nordic Club, first took up snowshoeing while living in Alaska and has continued the activity through the years after her move to Central Oregon.

Besides just being out in the woods, Giesler said snowshoeing allows just a little slower pace, but seems more adventurous at the same time.

Of course, snowshoeing the back country isn't all personal discovery and photo opportunities. There are dangers that come inherently with the wilderness. Risks of avalanches, sudden storms and just getting lost always take on a more serious tone when they occur in the back country.

"People have to know what they're getting into," Sabo said.

He suggested taking enough supplies to ensure safety should one be forced to endure a night in the wilderness. This gear should include extra food, water and clothing, as well as matches, fire starters, a flashlight, a compass, a map, a first-aid kit, an emergency blanket, sunglasses and a plastic whistle.

Sabo advised it's also a good idea to have along a basic repair kit for any equipment problems that might arise.

Another piece of equipment many more outdoorsmen are taking into the back country is a cellular phone. Sabo said that while a phone can save lives in a serious accident, it's important not to depend on them in every instance.

Speik said the best way to avoid the problem of getting lost is to stay found.

"A map doesn't do any good," he said, "if people don't know where they are."

Just having a map is definitely a help, as long as the users know where they are in relation to the map. But Speik advised that a map and compass used together is invaluable, and an inexpensive GPS receiver can lead you back to your car..

Speik added that Central Oregonians have a distinct advantage in that the multitude of sno-parks in the area gives adventurers a great starting point, as well as a safe place to park their car.

If it becomes necessary to spend the night in the back country, Speik warned that it's dangerous to depend on a snow cave or tree well. "It's a terrible thing to have people think that's going to save them," he said.

Although taking shelter in a snow cave or tree well has been known to save lives, Speik said inexperienced outdoorsmen can in fact waste more energy and endanger their lives even more while trying to rig a shelter.

The best way to survive a trip into the back country is to, first, be prepared, and second, don't get into trouble in the first place.

"The pleasure and euphoria of going out there should be secondary to knowing where you are," Speik said.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated!

Read more . . .
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essential Systems         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

HB 2509 mandates electronic locator beacons on Mt. Hood - climbers' views 
Oregon HB 2509 
as approved on March 28, 2007
Three hikers and a dog rescued on Mt. Hood 
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Snow stranded Utah couple leave car and die from hypothermia
What happened to the three climbers on Mt. Hood? 
Two climbers become lost descending Mt. Hood 
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia 
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia 
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Lost climber hikes 6.5 miles from South Sister Trail to Elk Lake
Young climber stuck on a steep snow slope rescued from Mt. Hood
American Alpine Club's Trad Award goes to Robert Speik in 2006

A climb of Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness
Ten high altitude deaths on Everest confirmed for 2006 climbing season
On Being and Becoming a Mountaineer: an Essay
Climbing Mount Hood in April with Arlene Blum and friends
AAC Report - Accident on Mount Washington ends with helicopter rescue
AAC Report - Fatal fall from Three Finger Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness
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Mount Huntington's West Face by Coley Gentzel ©2005 by AAI. All Rights Reserved
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Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on a second accident in 2004
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
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Notable mountain climbing accidents analyzed 
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Do you have map, compass and GPS seminar notes?   six pdf pages

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