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Mountain Winter Survival Tips

Mountain Winter Survival Tips

Wayne Bennett

By  Expert Author Wayne Bennett

After being missing for two days, on Jan. 16, 2012 a 66 year old experienced hiker was found alive on Mt. Rainier. How did he succeed when so many fail to survive? What are the Disaster Survival Skills for winter survival? Here are some tips to keep you alive.

Always let someone know where you went, and for how long, and your intended your intended route and your expected return. If you think that is silly or over kill; just check out the movie “127 Hours”. I have been involved in many searches, and the best chance of rescuers finding you quickly is knowing where you were going when you got lost.

Whether a day hike or an extended trip, pack for the unexpected. The items you should carry in a day pack can be debated, but the more items you carry, the more prepared you will be for an unexpected circumstance. Remember, the rules of 3. You can only go 3 hours without heat. 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. So pack accordingly. Warmth -Thermal Blanket, Matches, Water- Water Bottle w/filter and Food. These items will improve your chances of survival, and increase your level of comfort. Of course in addition at a minimum, light weight items like a mirror, compass, first aid supplies, important medicine, and backup batteries are always a good idea. Additional items (the list is endless) like clothing, rain gear, flashlight, light stick,water, personal locator device, and a tube tent might also make sense, based on the level of isolation or difficulty of access, if you should become stranded.

If you find yourself sliding down an icy mountain slope, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of injury, or at least have survivable injuries. You should attempt to get your feet going first. While you may still get injured, at least it won’t be your head. High speed head injuries, with or without a helmet are often fatal. If you carry an ice axe (and you should if slopes are steep and ice is likely), you can then roll onto your stomach and press hard into the snow with the axe into the ice to slow your speed of decent. This will greatly reduce your risk of injury and may provide you a way to go back up if that is your best option.

After the fall, Mr. Yong Chun Kim was able to radio to the group that he had survived the descent and would be hiking around to meet them at the starting area. Communications are very effective in improving your chance of survival and help rescuers locate you. In this day of cell phones, we are almost never out of contact, but remember that cellular service is very unreliable on most mountains, and another type of radio can be very valuable. If you have a radio, you will be able to better advise of your circumstances, condition, and intention. You can advise rescuers what may be needed to help bring you out. After Mr. Kim was unable to rejoin his party, rescuers were able to anticipate his route, to reduce the area that needed to be searched during terrible winter conditions.

Lastly, training on survival in winter conditions is always helpful. Understanding the techniques to create shelter, generate and find water, and help rescuers know your location will also improve your chances of survival. You should have a basic first aid course, and CPR class, and have taken it recently. If your training was long ago, under stress it will be hard to remember the finer points. Confidence comes from knowing what to do, and doing the right thing is always easier if you have been trained.

Can you survive a night on a snowy mountain? Take a minute or two to add a few items to your backpack, and take one afternoon to learn first aid, and you can certainly improve your chances of surviving.

Wayne Bennett is a recently retired twenty seven year veteran fire captain in southern California. He is also the owner of Survival Skills & Co. a business specializing in Disaster Response training for Schools and Businesses. He has trained over 100,000 persons how to save lives since 1991 in his one day “Disaster Survival Skills” workshops. His company also provides realistic emergency kits and supplies for disaster preparedness. They also offer NIMS, SEMS and ICS training and CPR & First Aid classes.

He is a FEMA CERT instructor, American Heart Association Instructor, National Safety Council Training Center. His training includes Urban Search and Rescue, Swift Water Rescue, Ice/Avalance Rescue, High/low angle rope rescue, CSTI Earthquake Management, etc.

Visit his website at

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Mountaineers (Photo credit: ashokboghani)

Types of Mountain Climbing Shelters


Mountain climbing can be done under many different conditions, and as such, there are a lot of different forms of mountain climbing shelters. Seeing as different locations can have wildly different terrain and weather conditions, the choices available to mountain climbers vary based on location and the general expected needs of the climbers. These shelters are particularly important on longer climbs, when people spend days on the mountain to climb to the highest peaks.

Huts are extremely common forms of shelters found in many European climbing spots. They can be found at different points along the mountains, and offer the basic necessities, such as a dining area and a place to sleep, as well as provide shelter should a climber need to rest, or unload some of their pack along the way. Huts vary in what they provide; some have staff year-round, some have seasonal staff, and some have no staff at all. Some of the more upscale staffed huts have diverse offerings that climbers can take advantage of, with food and drink made available. Others require the people staying in the huts to bring their own provisions. It is also important, when considering huts, to find out what they offer and if they are booked, as many cost money and accept reservations. This is particularly true of the huts with full-time staff.

Tents are also a very common choice for mountain climbing shelters. A climber simply brings a tent on the climb and secures it appropriately. It is important to buy a tent that is strong enough to hold up to all weather, as many mountain climbers encounter snow, ice, and high winds. As such, using a tent is not always the safest way to go, especially if winds happen to collapse the tent or destabilize it in any way.

Some mountain climbers like to use snow caves as a basic form of shelter. They’re warmer than tents, despite being made of snow, but in order to build a snow cave, a climber needs to have access to basic tools, the most important being a snow shovel. It is not that hard to build a snow cave; they can be built anywhere there is at least four feet of snow, which is a common condition for many mountain climbers to be in. A snow cave is not the same as an igloo, as it is far more simplistic and easier to build. Igloos are extremely uncommon shelters, as they are difficult to assemble.

Many climbers choose to rough it and go the route of a bivouac or a “bivy.” A climber uses a Bivouac sack and a sleeping bag and rests, usually using a crevice or a trench as a means for shelter. Although some purists enjoy doing it this way, many climbers will consider this an option only in case of an emergency.

It is important to remember that mountain climbing is a very dangerous activity. One of the best ways to ensure safety is to be certain the proper shelter will be available, but also to have a back-up plan as well. If you are expecting to stay at a hut, for example, it is not a bad idea to have a tent or a bivouac with you, just in case something happens and you need to stop before you reach the hut destination. With potential changes in the weather, and the knowledge that anything can happen once you’re on the mountain, this is some of the best advice someone can give you.

The author is associated with the rock climbing [] community, which has photos, videos, and advice on rock climbing.

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