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Know before you go and be aware, avalanche ready

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

I wanted to snowshoe Perseverance Trail in questionable conditions. So, because it's the right thing to do, I called my significant outdoor other to leave behind my itinerary.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"Did you check the weather?" my friend asked.

Nope. Nor did I check the CBJ Urban Avalanche Advisory (www.juneau.org/avalanche).

"Do you have gear for the backcountry?"

Nope. But according to this individual, I should have a snow saw, probes, slope meter, monocular, walkie talkie, bivy sack, first aid kit, climbing skins, avalanche transceiver, shovel, backpack, spare binding strap, snow science kit, avalung or air bag system, helmet, headlamp, water bottle, stove and fuel, tool kit and a map and compass. Of course, these are for more extreme backcountry sorts, but the start of Perseverance Trail does wind along a steep, rocky face.

"You going with someone?" my friend also asked.

Nope. Nor was I planning to take my cell phone or GPS.

"Are you crazy?"

Umm, ah, stupid is more appropriate. Stupid, but willing to listen.

Juneau just experienced a heavy snowfall followed by warming and rain. Experts say this can stress multitudes of buried layers creating dangerous avalanche conditions that even experienced backcountry hikers won't attempt. Even a tiny avalanche can move rocks, trees, ice and snow onto unsuspecting winter enthusiasts. Because of this, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and of the conditions, especially if you are towing smaller children, or walking your dog, etc.

Even for some easy day hikes in the woods the following essentials should be with you:

• Topographic map or area knowledge, compass, extra food (snowshoeing is strenuous), extra clothing (layers of wool or polypropylene to wick sweat and moisture), firestarter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit and flashlight (extra batteries, since winter days are short).

• Plenty of water for hydration.

• Shelter or sleeping bag (you may end up stranded overnight)

• Portable shovel (critically important to assist in digging someone out of an avalanche or digging a snowcave for protection and warmth)

• Avalanche beacon and knowledge of its use.

So yes, your pack is going to be a bit heavier, but that means you will burn more calories.

"Do you have a power bar?" my friend asked. "Good. Then chew on that while you snowshoe around your truck in the Perseverance Trail parking lot. When I get off work we will get you outfitted for tomorrow."

I did one thing right: I told someone where I was going and when I planned to return. And he, in turn, did the next best thing: he told me not to go.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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