We aren’t out of the woods yet

As the weather warms up, people will head to the mountains in search of outdoor adventures and are surprised that there is still plenty of winter weather up there. In some areas, depending on elevation and other factors, snow can last until July. 

Before you leave home, check the trail conditions of the area you want to visit. Depending on how far you are traveling, the weather could be completely different. Weather can change quickly in the spring, leaving travelers stranded or in wet, cold weather they are not prepared for— an excellent place to check trail information trip reports on Washington Trails Association’s website, wta.org.

“Spring is a dynamic time of year, so a little extra preparation can go a long way. A key part of kicking off the hiking season is brushing up on your safety skills and double-checking you have all the gear you need in your pack, says Washington Trails Association. “A little extra planning and caution ensures a good start to your adventures.”

In whiteout or harsh winter conditions or on snow-covered trails, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. Overnight freezing can leave rocks slick and snowy trails hard-packed and icy. On a steep slope, snow transforms an easy summer trail into difficult, risky travel. It is safer to stay put and wait for better weather than to continue and risk becoming lost. 

If you need help, call 9-1-1. King County Search and Rescue has tips on wilderness safety and if something goes wrong and what to do if injured or lost.

“As we transition into spring, it’s important to keep avalanche safety front and center before stepping out into the backcountry,” Dennis D’ Amico at the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) says. “Avalanche involvements including fatalities can and have occurred every spring. As the days become longer, NWAC will be, producing daily forecasts through April 18. Continue to check the avalanche forecast as you plan your day outside, just as you would in winter.”

It is essential to know your experience level and your ability to survive should the weather change in an alpine environment. Now is not the time to exceed your abilities. Search and rescue resources are stretched, and rescue events can lead to unnecessary exposure of the COVID-19 virus for first responders and recreationists. 

Here are more tips on staying safe during this shoulder season: 

Plan ahead

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be home. Travel with a buddy when possible. 
  • Always carry survival gear with you, including the 10 Essentials, extra clothing, and food if you have to spend the night outside.
  • You may need a reliable map and compass skills to traverse snow-covered trails, which can be challenging to follow, particularly in backcountry areas.
  • While electronic locators and communication can be helpful, they cannot be always be relied upon while in the backcountry.

Play it safe

  • Plan to be self-sufficient when traveling in the backcountry as the park does not mark hazards, stabilize avalanche slopes, or designate safe routes. You are responsible for your safety.
  • Have proper footwear with good traction, micro-spikes, extra clothing, water, and a headlamp.
  • Snow hides hazards like streams that hide under the snow. Use your poles to poke snow if you hear water.
  • Stay on marked trails, even if it means walking on snow or mud.
  • Choose to turn around instead of crossing steep, snow–covered slopes. A fall could be disastrous.
  • Avoid stepping onto snow cornices as they may collapse under your weight. Assume that snow on the edge of precipices is unstable. Falling into snow moats around trees and adjacent to logs and rocks can cause injury. Avoid getting too close.
  • Weather can change quickly, causing hard navigate conditions, including whiteouts or dangerous stream crossing due to rapid snowmelt.
  • Beware of avalanches. Snow is increasingly unstable this time of year and may slide or collapse.
  • Remember, you are responsible for your own safety!