Tag Archives: gear

Tips for Staying Warm and Dry During Winter Adventures

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you should stop adventuring, but it does mean that you have to prepare more. Staying warm and dry when you’re out on a long winter bike ride, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or exploring the wintery landscape in another way is essential. You definitely won’t have a good time with numb fingers and toes, and a negative experience will make you less likely to get outside during winter in the future. Plus, hypothermia and frostbite are not laughing matters and should be avoided at all costs.

Woman shivering.

Brr! Bundle up—winter is officially here. [Image: http://www.mirror.co.uk/]

Dress Appropriately

Winter calls for certain gear that you obviously don’t need in other seasons, and while it may seem excessive at times, it’s all necessary. From top to bottom, there are a few essential items to make sure you have in stock.

Couple snowshoeing.

The couple that dresses warm together, probably goes on to do lots of fun outdoor adventuring together. [Image: http://www.active.com/]

  • Socks, socks, and more socks. And not just thin cotton socks, but at least one pair of heavy-duty wool socks to keep your tootsies snug. You’ll also probably want a pair of thinner wool socks to put on underneath the thicker ones. Layers are essential for keeping your extremities toasty warm.
  • Large, breathable, waterproof boots. To account for the thicker socks and extra layers, you’ll need a pair of boots that are larger than your normal shoe size. You’ll also want a pair that can breathe and that are waterproof because wet, sweaty feet lead to wet boots, which will eventually freeze and lead to your feet getting colder quicker.
  • Kneewarmers or tights/long johns underneath snow pants. Your legs will probably be one of the warmest parts of your body as you’ll typically be exerting yourself by using your legs. Tights, long johns, and kneewarmers are all helpful in providing a bit of extra warmth, though. And these, of course, go underneath any heavier snow pants or thicker pants you may be wearing—unless you’re trying to create a new fashion trend, that is.
  • Jackets for days. There’s a general “rule of three” when it comes to layering. An insulated jacket is essential, and depending on the temperatures and how long you’ll be outside for, an extra jacket as well as a breathable, non-cotton shirt might also be necessary.
  • Fingers are like toes and should be treated similarly. What we mean by this is that fingers, like toes, are extremities and often get cold first as your body concentrates heat on your torso for your vital organs. Therefore it’s appropriate to layer and invest in some extra linings. There is also a lot of talk that mittens are more effective than gloves, but that’s usually up to your personal preference—if you absolutely hate mittens for some reason, then it’s probably not worth the investment. Hand (and foot!) warmers are also helpful and are available in bulk on many sites.
  • Protect that beautiful head of yours. A hat and scarf combo are great for winter exploring and help to keep your ears, neck, and face comfortable. There are other items—like a buff, balaclava, or earmuffs—that you might also want to look into, but as long as you’re covered then you’re good to go. It’s also important to remember that if you start becoming warm, the scarf and hat should be the first items to be removed.

Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

Cold Spongebob.

Trust me, this is not the life you want. [Image: http://media.tumblr.com/]

There are more than a few ways to know if you’re suffering from hypothermia or frostbite as well as plenty of ways to treat both. With frostbiteyou’ll start out feeling a cold, prickly feeling in your body parts and they’ll turn red (as mentioned before, extremities are the first areas that typically become afflicted with frostbite). From there, the body part will grow increasingly numb and will turn white, and may even turn blue or purple. You’ll know you’re in trouble if your body starts feeling warm and you experience stinging or burning. At this point you may also experience blisters a day or so after warming back up. If your frostbite advances even further, all layers of your skin will be affected by the freezing temperatures. You might lose functionality in your joints and will become completely numb in the frostbitten areas, which will eventually turn black in the days following the exposure.

On the other hand, hypothermia is a whole other monster to deal with. A few signs of hypothermia are shivering, dizziness, confusion, trouble speaking, lack of coordination, weak pulse, and shallow breathing. Although it’s usually difficult to notice hypothermia as the symptoms are gradual, the more it sets in, the more apparent the symptoms become. However, the shivering will cease in extreme cases. Wearing breathable, non-cotton clothes during your winter adventures is very important as cotton absorbs sweat and can freeze, making you more vulnerable to hypothermia.

Stay Hydrated

Woman drinking water.

Drink up! The water’s great! [Image: http://thoughtfulwomen.org/]

It’s easy to overlook drinking water when your teeth are chattering and your muscles twitching with the cold, but it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated during wintertime exercise. When your body is cold, your mind ends up preoccupied, and you simply don’t feel thirsty as often, even when you’re on the brink of dehydration. Water also helps you generate heat easier and quicker, which is especially important when you’re covered in tons of layers. It’s important to drink water often (and not a swig of whiskey, as some movies may have you believe).

Hopefully with these tips you’re feeling a bit more inspired to head outside and explore, despite winter’s chill. And nothing can make that easier than our handy Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, which are available for download in the iTunes and Google Play Stores!

Celebrate the Summer Solstice at a State Park Near You

Two hands that look like they're holding the sun.

Welcome back, summer! Oh, how we’ve missed you. [Image: http://www.care2.com/]

Although the warm weather has arrived, summer hasn’t officially begun until this weekend during the summer solstice. Typically falling between June 20th and June 22nd, the summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night in the northern hemisphere (the opposite occurs simultaneously in the southern hemisphere during their winter solstice).

The summer solstice occurs when the sun’s zenith is farthest from the equator and is also known as the “estival solstice” or “midsummer.” Around the world and across many different cultures, the summer solstice has been recognized as a time to celebrate through holidays, rituals, and festivals. So what better way to welcome the warmth than heading out to a state park? Here are just three of the many state park summer solstice activities occurring this weekend.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Florida

A group of people in a circle in the woods holding drums.

Grab your bongos and drum in the season! [Image: http://projectavalon.net/]

A Tequesta Drum Circle will be held from 7 p.m. until midnight at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Florida hosted by the Moon Path Circle. The event is named to honor the Tequesta Indians, and there will be belly dancers, a gigantic bonfire, nature poems, and, of course, drums. It’s a holistic, environmentally aware way to celebrate summer and connect with the planet as it flows along its natural path.

More info: 954-564-4521

Old Stone Fort State Park, Tennessee

Sun shining through daisies.

Visit a spot that had prime views of the summer solstice sunrise. [Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/longint57/539260752]

Tennessee’s gorgeous Old Stone Fort State Park is full of exciting fishing and hiking opportunities. The main trail follows the walls of Old Stone Fort and traverses through areas that were once used as Native American ceremonial gathering places. At the original fort entrance, there was a perfect view of the spot on the horizon where the sun rises during the summer solstice. Learn about the fort through interpretive panels, check out the gorgeous waterfalls, and end your tour at one of the best spots for greeting summer.

More info: 931-723-5073

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, Arkansas

Toltec Mounds in Arkansas.

Tour the gorgeous Toltec Mounds and ring in the summer. [Image: http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/toltecmounds/]

Bring the whole family out to Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in Arkansas to celebrate the summer solstice and official arrival of the season. There will be primitive-styled weapons to play around with and crafts. At 6 p.m., the park staff will explain the correlation of the mounds’ alignment with the summer solstice sunset and then provide a guided sunset tour of the mounds at 7 p.m. Ease into the summer’s inevitable heat by relaxing at the Toltec Mounds.

More info: 501-961-9442 or toltecmounds@arkansas.com

We’re thankful that the cold months are behind us for now, and we’re fully ready to soak up the sun this summer. Make sure you’ve got all your summer gear, and start making plans to head out to a state or national park near you!

Make Your Own Trails with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition

Any of our Pocket Ranger® apps can help you find adventure, but you’ll need a rugged rig to get you there. Named Motor Trend’s 2015 Truck of the Year®, we nominate Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition as that perfect ride to get you from humble abode into the great outdoors.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Reach any trailhead with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition. This midsize pick-up comfortably handles the toughest trails thanks to its rugged durability, powerfully efficient 3.6L V6 engine, and Z71 Off-Road Package. No matter the weather, the trail-ready Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac® all-terrain tires keep you moving in all conditions. Best of all that Z71 Off-Road Package guarantees a smooth ride.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Got gear? Whether you’re a hiker, kayaker, hunter or angler, with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition there are storage options galore for all of your outdoor gear. GearOn™ moveable cargo tie-down rings and GearOn™ cargo divider in the bed give you many ways to secure your gear. Inside the cab, the large center console provides easy storage options for your gadgets and a nonskid space for charging devices. Armed with rear vision camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and OnStar Advisor, this truck pulls its weight when it comes to you and your family’s safety. Composed of high strength materials and reinforced safety cage, the Chevy Colorado Z71 series frame actually minimizes damage in the event of a collision.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Take the internet into the wilderness with you! Turn your Chevy Colorado Z71 into a hot spot with 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi connection powered by OnStar. Forgot to download a Pocket Ranger® app before you left the house? Download apps, surf the web, and stream video and music with the cab’s powerful connection that can serve up to seven devices. Four USB ports found in the cabin’s console add to ease of use. The truck’s cabin is also equipped with a top-notch Bose® sound system. Queue up the perfect soundtrack for those nights spent star-gazing from the truck bed.

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for New Hampshire State Parks and cruise the scenic Kancamagus Highway. While most will be stuck looking at the White Mountains from the hardtop of “the Kanc,” with your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition, you can access numerous trailheads. We recommend hiking Mount Chocorua, a steep climb with commanding views of the Presidential Mountains. Don’t want to leave your Chevy behind? Put the Chevy Colorado Z71 to the test by summiting Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast!

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Or get lost in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington. Less than 50 miles from Seattle, you can rely on your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition to easily transition you from hip, urban sprawl to austere, alpine wilderness. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is home to the glacier-carved North Cascades and part of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail. Some of the best rock-climbing opportunities in the country can be found at Cashmere Crags. Or load up the kayak or canoe and spend the day on one of the 700 mountain lakes and ponds within the area. Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for Washington State Parks for advanced GPS mapping capabilities that will help you navigate your adventure.

The Nitty Gritty About Survival Kits

Survival kit essentials and backpack [Image: thenexttrailhead.com/post/45569963707/diy-first-aid-wilderness-survival-kit]

Image: thenexttrailhead.com/post/45569963707/diy-first-aid-wilderness-survival-kit

Heading into the great outdoors? In addition to your first aid kit, don’t forget to pack a survival kit! While everyone has preferences of what they like to include in their personal survival kit, here’s a list of our 11 must-haves.

1. Lighter

A small plastic lighter can make all the difference in an emergency. Also consider packing a magnesium starter or a book of matches as back-up.

2. Cell Phone

Cell phones are practically mandatory survival items these days. Just don’t forget to bring a charger. For more remote locations, a satellite phone may be necessary.

3. Iodine Tablets

In addition to bringing enough water, fill a small pill bottle with iodine tablets. Iodine tablets are perfect for survival kits because they are way easier to pack than a water filter. These tablets don’t add the best taste to water, but they will get you through those areas where drinking water isn’t readily available.

Two hikers on the trail in the evening [Image: Image: outdoorgearmadness.com/petzl-myo-rxp-review]

Image: outdoorgearmadness.com/petzl-myo-rxp-review

4. Flashlight

What you thought was a day hike turns into an overnight affair. That’s when you’re really going to need your flashlight and/or headlamp. Just don’t forget to pack extra batteries!

5. Knife

A pocket knife is good. A multi-tool knife is great.

6. Tinder

Whether you bring along some homemade fire starter or a vial of emergency tinder tablets, dry kindling will be a godsend when you’re looking to start a fire.

If your day hike turns midway into a camping trip, you'll be glad you packed a survival kit. [Image:  www.exposureguide.com/outdoor-photography-tips.htm]

If your day hike turns midway into a camping trip, you’ll be glad you packed a survival kit. [Image: www.exposureguide.com/outdoor-photography-tips.htm]

7. Energy Bar

Stash an energy bar or two into your survival kit. When the going gets rough, an energy bar will feel like a feast.

8. Compass & Maps

Even the best technology can fail, which is why bringing along a compass and map is so essential. Before hitting the trail, be sure that you are packing the most up-to-date map!

9. Waterproof Shell

Even if the forecast says sunny, pack a light, waterproof outer shell. This shell should also act as a windbreaker.

After a day like this, you'll be so glad you packed extra socks. [Image: treelinebackpacker.com/2014/08/09/backpacking-in-the-rain]

After a day like this, you’ll be so glad you packed extra socks. [Image: treelinebackpacker.com/2014/08/09/backpacking-in-the-rain]

10. Water Bottle

If you’ve got the space, bring an extra water bottle. You never know when you’ll need an extra container.

11. Extra Hiking Socks

Knowing you’ve packed a pair of dry hiking socks may be the ticket to getting you through those downtrodden moments on the trail. Thick socks can also double as mittens.

Many of these items and more can be found within our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store! Or take our 2-minute Pocket Ranger® Survey and you could win a $350 gift certificate to Backcountry.com!

Leave No Trace

How do you keep the wilderness wild when millions of outdoor enthusiasts visit state and national parks each year? The Center for Outdoor Ethics created a solution to this problem with their national educational program, Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace program promotes and inspires good ethical practice when in the backcountry. By following these guidelines, you ensure a gratifying and lasting outdoor experience for all.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Like any trip, planning before you arrive at your destination is key.

  • Acquaint yourself with park regulations. You can easily access this information through any of our free Pocket Ranger® apps.
  • Be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies. Pack a first aid kit and a survival kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, whistle, multi-tool pocket knife, maps, lighter, fire starters, and iodine tablets.
  • Respect the physical limits of your hiking group by planning a trip that’s compatible with the group’s skill level.
Backpacker in sunlit field [Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com]

Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com

  • Careful meal planning and packaging is so important when out in the backcountry. Pack only the food you need to minimize waste while you’re out on the trail.
  • Try to visit the outdoors in small groups. This is especially applicable to backpacking trips. If you are a larger group heading into the wilderness, break off into smaller groups to reduce impact on the environment. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use on the trail.
  • Refrain from marking your trail with paint, cairns or flagging, and instead use a map, compass or your Pocket Ranger® app. In addition to a compass feature, the Pocket Ranger® apps offer users advanced GPS features that can even be used offline!

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Trampling down an area’s vegetation can result in some undesirable results, such as barren areas and soil erosion. Help preserve the environment by following these tips:

  • In wilderness areas of high use, stick to established trails and campsites. Established campsites can come in a few different forms, such as raised wooden platforms, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Walk single-file on trails and try to stick to the center of these trails. This prevents the trail from further eroding the surrounding landscape.
Hikers on a trail in the woods [Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles]

Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles

  • However, when camping and hiking through pristine or fragile environments, the opposite is true. Avoid making established trails or campsites by dispersing your impact on the environment. Do not camp or travel in places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Whether in high use or low use areas, always make sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. This protects the waterbody and riparian areas (the land near a waterbody) from damage and contamination.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This principle could be the golden rule of the backcountry: Whatever you pack in, you must pack out! This includes all trash, leftover food, toilet paper (both used and unused), and hygiene products.

  • Before leaving a campsite or rest area, check around for any trash or spilled food you may have missed.
  • Solid human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep. These catholes must be at least 200 feet from water, campsite and trails. After use, cover and disguise catholes.
Always clean up after yourself when outdoors. [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

Always clean up after yourself! [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

  • Got dishes? Need a shower? To clean either yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lake, and use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. When finished cleaning or bathing, do not dump this dirty water back into the stream or lake! Doing so would contaminate the natural water source. Instead, strain and then scatter the water at least 200 feet (or 80 to 100 strides) from its source.

4. Leave What You Find

Look, but don’t touch! Preserve the past by leaving natural and historic structures and artifacts as they are. This ensures that other visitors to the area will have the same sense of discovery.

  • Leave rocks, plants, feathers and other natural objects just as you find them.
  • Don’t transport non-native species with you! Non-native species frequently become invasive. These invasive species can critically damage the ecosystem.
  • A good campsite is found, not made. Do not dig trenches or build structures, such as lean-tos, tables or chairs.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

While many believe that a roaring campfire is essential to a great camping trip, fire is not always permitted in backcountry area. Before lighting a fire, always check with park regulations.

  • If fires are allowed, use only established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires. Keep your campfire small and manageable.
  • Hold off on the huge logs! The Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Can you spot the two campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

Can you spot the campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

  • Burn all the wood and coals in your campfire to ash and put out the fire completely. Then scatter the cool ashes.
  • As for cooking outdoors, use a lightweight camp stove. A lightweight camp stove (rather than a bulky camp stove) will also be a blessing for your back!

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s certainly exhilarating to come across wildlife when outdoors. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, follow these guidelines for wildlife sightings:

  • Always observe wildlife from a distance. Never approach or follow wildlife.
  • Never feed wildlife! Feeding wildlife can make wild animals dependent on humans, creating opportunities for potentially dangerous encounters.
Black bear takes over picnic at campsite [Image: http://forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

Don’t let your favorite breakfast cereal become theirs. [Image: forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing food rations and securely.
  • If you bring pets with you, make sure you have control of them at all times. In many places, leashes are required.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

While you may head into the backcountry to be alone in the great outdoors, chances are you may come across a few other outdoor enthusiasts.

  • Respect other visitors to the area. Be courteous and yield to other hikers on the trail.
  • Take breaks and camp away from the trails and other visitors. Avoid making loud noises or speaking in loud voices when in the backcountry. Keeping your voice low not only helps others enjoy their time in the wilderness, but also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
  • If you encounter pack stock in the backcountry, step to the downhill side of the trail.

Any adventure in the outdoors is going to require some quality gear. By taking the Pocket Ranger® State Park Visitor Survey you could win a $350 gift certificate to Backcountry.com!

Hop in a Chevy Colorado for Your Next Adventure!

Listen up adventure seekers—we have some thrilling news that we couldn’t be happier to share! ParksByNature Network recently partnered up with Chevy Colorado, and we can hardly contain our excitement over this new sponsorship. Not only is this amazing news for us, but it’s even better for you. With its roomy interior and ability to excel in all types of terrain, the Chevy Colorado ensures you’ll have a fantastic outdoor experience and makes driving to your favorite state parks and wildlife areas a lot more enjoyable. From the time you situate yourself in the comfy seats to when you get to your destination and use it’s convenient 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi (especially helpful for using your Pocket Ranger® apps!), there’s no doubt that the Chevy Colorado is an outstanding choice for all adventurers.

Chevy Colorado vehicle in the mountains near a tent

Get to your destination and use it’s convenient 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi.

Picture this: It’s a gorgeous weekend. Maybe you’re heading into the breathtaking mountains of Western New York, exploring one of Ohio’s picturesque state parks, or hitting the surf in Virginia Beach. Whatever your passion, it’s time to get out and head for the hills. Of course you’ll want to bring your favorite fishing rod, lucky running shoes, beloved bicycle helmet, or treasured tent in tow. With the Chevy Colorado, fitting your gear is easy, so you can spend more time exploring the outdoors and less time packing your truck.

When you’re all set, weave through the city and then seamlessly head off into the mountains. Its four-wheel disc brakes and Duralife™ brake rotors reduce the wheel shutter while assuring overall durability. The electric power steering makes driving along a slick or icy street virtually the same experience as riding on a bone-dry road. It’s built to withstand all the elements, whether you’re feeling adventurous on a rainy day, looking to explore a snowy peak, planning to head off the beaten path, or just want to have the perfect picnic.

After you decide on your adventure, you’ll be elated by how spacious and accommodating the Chevy Colorado is. The two-tier loading and bed divider makes packing up your gear an easy task; you’ll find yourself trying to fill all the extra space rather than looking for room to squeeze in one last thing. A multitude of accessories are available to accommodate any type of adventurer as well, such as bike racks, ski racks, hitches for trailers, GearOn™ bed dividers, and much more.

Man hitches bicycle to his Chevy Colorado

The Chevy Colorado makes adventuring easy with room for all your gear.

Not only is the Chevy Colorado roomy, but it provides a cozy, intuitive drive as well. The truck is immensely sturdy, so cruise along in luxury and security as your favorite jams stream out of the impeccable Bose speakers. Meanwhile the thick windows and triple-sealed doors reduce the whistling wind and outside road noises—you might have a bit of trouble convincing yourself to get out of the car once you finally reach your destination!

The Chevy Colorado doesn’t stop there with its impressive features. Charge up those electronic devices along the way in any of the four USB ports because you’ll be using them once you park. The truck can be turned into a hot spot with 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi, courtesy of OnStar. The signal is even stronger than what your devices regularly receive. The best part of this feature is that you’ll be able to use your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to enhance your explorations!

With all the mind-blowing benefits, investing in a Chevy Colorado is a must for any outdoor enthusiast. Bring all of your favorite gear, stay connected to other explorers near you, and stay up-to-date about any information at nearby parks. It doesn’t really get much better than that! 

Head over to our Gear Store to add to your collection, then download our mobile apps to find a park near you!

An Ode To Turning Around

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Rocky mountaintop [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

We stood before an icy couloir that divided Mt. Meeker from the Diamond Face of Longs Peak. Behind us, up a desolate, cold valley, the sunrise illuminated the rock in a brilliant gold hue. We huddled with the wind at our back, barely trying to stay on our feet, ice axe in hand and crampons firmly gripped to our boots. In the brief moments of calm between gusts funneling through the couloir, we pondered our chances on the Dreamweaver Route. Our plan was to climb in alpine-style: fast, light, no rope, and relying on our tools and efficient movement to ascend the 60-degree ramp to the summit ridge. As we stared up the face and came to a decision, a blast of spindrift – swirling, icy crystals of snow, had us pulling our hoods over our mouths. I turned to my partner and I said the words that no climber likes to hear:

I don’t think this is a good idea.

Rocky mountain summit with snow [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Alpine climbing is always a gamble and never a certainty. Unlike a day at the crag where you have ample time to relax and take in the view, alpine climbing is about efficiency and constant movement. In the mountains, you’re fighting against the weather, the condition of the snow, the movement of other parties ahead of you, and a variety of factors that are determined to slow down the climb. The best alpinists became that way because they knew when to make the call to turn back from the summit. During the ascent, there’s a constant state of awareness regarding the changing conditions. A bluebird day turns into storm clouds and blasting winds within minutes. The snow softens, becomes too warm, and risks sliding. If you’re within yards of the summit, you know to ask yourself:

I may make it to the top, but do I have the ability to make it back down?

This is the question that should plague every hiker, backcountry skier, climber, or snowshoer. During high-intensity backcountry excursions, self-assessment and condition awareness is crucial. How fast is the party moving? What’s everyone’s condition regarding altitude and overall fitness? How much daylight is left in relation to the summit’s distance? There’s always that desire to be bold, be the superhero, and have that story about beating the odds to make an objective, but at what risk? The mountain is always going to be there and the trail will live for another day. Unwarranted criticism about the decisions that anybody makes in the mountains should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

Yellow tent on rocky mountain summit [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

In 2012, on my first attempt of Mt. Rainier, we got caught in a storm on the upper reaches of the mountain. Despite the stinging cold, blinding snow, and unbearable wind, I was determined to make it to the top. Because of my ego and personal pride, I overlooked my condition and kept forging ahead, putting at risk my life and that of my teammates. The fault in my actions that day was due to the fact that I had under-assessed my own condition and tried to push ahead with all my strength despite being already exhausted on the upper slopes. The next few trips, I learned to treat climbs not as a reach for the summit, but instead to enjoy the beauty and the athleticism behind alpinism as a whole. On subsequent trips, such as getting turned back from Mt. Hood due to the warming weather and soft snow, or a turnaround on Washington’s Forbidden Peak because our timing at the base of the route was way off, I learned to respect these decisions for what they were. Not a representation of what I couldn’t do, but just the luck of the draw. An unfortunate side effect of what we do as climbers.

Sun sets over mountain range in Pacific Northwest [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Every climb is a learning experience. You learn how to read different conditions, how to gauge good movement, and take that into future ascents. During the climb there should never be any kind of doubt or “I don’t know” about the route. Ultimately, the decision of turning around will always be the right one.