With the return of warmer weather and longer days, it’s a given that many will be looking to head outside into the mountains for some spring hiking to enjoy all Mother Nature has to offer.
It’s also when many people head out unprepared for what, in many cases, are still winter-like conditions.
While Metro Vancouver is blessed with awe-inspiring alpine and jaw-dropping vistas, these areas can quickly become problematic – or even deadly – for those who aren’t properly prepared for the conditions.
To find out exactly how to properly prepare for a hike in the North Shore mountains, we spoke to North Shore Search and Rescue team leader Mike Danks.
Before you’ve even left home, it’s crucial to properly research the area where you plan on going “to make sure the conditions of the hike you’re planning to do are what you think they’re going to be,” said Danks.
Just this past week, crews were called to rescue a hiker who was on a trail that was “totally above his fitness level,” he added.
Even with the time change and progressively longer days, it’s important to “make sure you have the ample daylight hours needed to complete your hike,” he said
And while the weather may be warming up in the city, it’s important to remember that conditions are different in the mountains and “there is still a large snowpack.”
It goes without saying (but we’ll still say it anyway) that no matter where you’re heading, proper equipment is key and knowledge of how to use it is equally important.
If you’re heading into a snow zone, you should have – as a minimum – an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel. Of course, these items won’t do you much good if you’re hiking alone and run into trouble, so hiking with at least one other person is always a good idea.
In addition, an ice-axe, crampons, or hiker’s spikes will go a long way in helping you safely navigate this type of terrain.
Even if you’re doing doing a seemingly quick, solo jaunt, “you should always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.”
A cell phone with a fully charged battery stores in a ziploc bag is also a good idea. This way, if you get into trouble your phone will be dry and have a full charge.
Ample food, water, and navigation aids are essential. If you’re taking on hikes that are a little more remote, Danks said it’s a good idea to bring Spot or Delorme InReach satellite devices, that allow you to call for help from anywhere
Finally, proper clothing will go along way to your overall comfort while hiking, as well as help your chances if you get stuck, lost, or have to call for help. Always wear proper clothing and footwear, “not cotton, jeans, or running shoes” and have an extra layer you can throw on if you become stuck and need to hunker down for a bit.
Danks added that a full equipment list is available on North Shore Rescue’s website.
Once the research is done and the proper equipment is packed, it’s important to pay attention to things that are out of your control as well.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the people going into the backcountry and most are well-prepared, but many still completely naive about the conditions,” said Danks.
Among these “conditions” is what’s known as the freeze-thaw cycle: The snow will begin to melt during the warm, daytime temperatures, and then turn to ice overnight as the temperature drops.
“Many people just aren’t prepared for that,” Danks said.
Another big factor at play this time of year is the avalanche danger that comes with large volumes of snow layers warming up, being unable to support their own load, and ultimately slipping down the mountain.
It’s a big reason why certain trails are closed this time of year.
“We really encourage people to get out and explore, but please respect the closures,” said Danks. “There’s been a lot of [avalanche] activity in these areas lately.”
So while the lure of the great outdoors is strong this time of year, the mountains still command respect. A few simple precautions will go a long way to ensuring you get to enjoy what the wilderness has to offer time and time again.