In this month's episode of The Fine Line Podcast, we hear the story of a long and dramatic summer snow rescue on Disappointment Peak. It took 10 elite Jenny Lake Rangers more than 10 hours to evacuate an injured climber after she fell on a snow field and landed in a moat near the edge of a cliff on Disappointment Peak. The biggest lesson this climber learned isn’t likely what you’d think, but it’s one you should hear.
Do you know how to safely traverse a snowfield? If you plan to hike in the Tetons this summer you need these skills to BE PREPARED and stay safe.
Learning and practicing solid footwork, specific techniques for walking on snow, how to move your body over snow covered terrain MUST happen BEFORE attempting to climb on steep snow. You must learn how to use (and practice with them regularly) the tools needed for traveling on snow BEFORE taking them into the mountains. Read on for more....
In this episode of The Fine Line, two veteran Jackson Hole boaters recall an epic spring when big water lured them to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. With the traditional boat launch closed due to snow, Aaron Pruzan, Brent Tyc and several others put in at Marsh Creek, a tiny tributary running fast, cold and choked with woody debris. Listen to their swiftwater rescue story to learn what went right, what went wrong and how to avoid similar situations.
Rene Etter-Garrette had been living in Jackson Hole for six winters. He'd found mentors willing to share their backcountry knowledge and skied challenging lines in Grand Teton National Park.
On February 4th, 2016, Rene and two friends decided to attempt the Spoon Couloir on Disappointment Peak. Rene had begun questioning the risks of backcountry skiing after a close friend died in avalanche just a few weeks earlier. But on this day, avalanche danger had been rated moderate and Rene had skied this same line several times before without any trouble.
In this week's blog we sit down with Backcountry Zero Ambassador Crystal Wright to learn more about her professional skiing career, her other backcountry pursuits and what inspired her to join the Backcountry Zero team.
Backcountry skiers call the Mosquito Creek Drainage off Teton Pass "The Black Hole”. It's a place where the terrain looks disarmingly similar, luring skiers downslope away from Teton Pass until it's too late to retreat and you're at the bottom. It's an easy mistake to make and It can have life-threatening consequences. In this month’s episode of The Fine Line, Craig Benjamin and Teton County Search and Rescue Chief Advisor Tim Ciocarlan share the dramatic story of Craig's near-death and subsequent rescue.
Backcountry Zero is honored to have professional snowmobiler Dan Adams join it's team of Backcountry Zero Ambassadors. Owner of Next Level Riding Clinics, Dan is committed to being and agent of positive change for our backcountry community. He has a passion for backcountry adventure and a demonstrated commitment to safety, training and user ethics. Read this week's blog post to learn more about Dan.
Avalanche rescue gear is pretty useless if you can’t use it quickly and efficiently. A real avalanche rescue is terrifying, stressful and chaotic. If you want to save your partner's life, you only have a few minutes to do it. That requires beacon, probing, and digging skills. Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides you have a great place to practice. Exum has installed the beacon training park (aka Beacon Basin) again this winter in Mail Cabin Canyon for public use. Read on for more info…
Backcountry Zero sat down with Teton County Search and Rescue Volunteer and Medical Director, Dr. AJ Wheeler, to find out more about when you should call search and rescue, what information you will need to provide, how long a response usually takes and more. Listen to a recording of our conversation or read a transcript to learn more.
In this week's blog we sit down with new Backcountry Zero Ambassador Crista Valentino. We learn about her backcountry pursuits, what scares her and what inspired her to join the Backcountry Zero team.
On September 11, 1985, a severe winter-type storm hit the Teton range slamming the peaks with 90mph winds and dumping several feet of snow. The storm raged for nearly 48 hours forming snow drifts, verglas (slick water ice) and reducing visibility to less than 20 yards. Two climbing parties were caught on the Grand Teton when the storm struck at 1pm. Former Jenny Lake Rangers Jim Woodmencey and Renny Jackson recount their incredible efforts to save the surviving climbers in this episode of The Fine Line.
Backcountry Zero launched it's new ambassador program this week.
From endurance mountaineers to paragliders, mountain bikers to skiers, Backcountry Zero Ambassadors embody the spirit of adventure and are committed to being agents of positive change for the Jackson Hole community and the backcountry community at large.
The program launched with 6 prominent athletes and plans to expand over the next year to include additional sport disciplines. Current members of the Ambassador Program include:
- Crystal Wright - skier
- Andrew Whiteford – mountain biker and skier
- Cade Palmer - paraglider
- Ryan Burke – endurance mountaineer
- Jenny Wolfrom – mountain biker
- Crista Valentino - mountaineer
As brand representatives, Backcountry Zero Ambassadors will work to increase awareness of the Backcountry Zero mission, to create relevant and engaging content for online followers, to increase participation at events and programs, and most importantly to improve community dialogue about backcountry risk and safety. They will also work to inspire other athletes they come into contact with in their respective fields to join the Backcountry Zero community.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have these athletes join our team. Our ambassadors are outstanding athletes and amazing human beings who share the same philosophy, core values and dedication we do to the goals and mission of Backcountry Zero. They have a passion for our community, backcountry adventure and a demonstrated commitment to safety, training and user ethics,” said Amy Golightly, Associate Director of Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation.
For more about our ambassadors please visit our Ambassador Page.
As we increase our years on this Earth the natural evolution of our wisdom is to make smarter choices for our health and conditioning. That means better nutrition, frequent workouts, stress reduction and, at least in this valley, outdoor adventures including backcountry exploration.
My personal experience in the backcountry and a workshop I attended this spring triggered thoughts of what I used to do, currently do and foresee myself doing in the years to come to be physically prepared for backcountry adventure.
The workshop I attended was offered through Backcountry Zero, a program to reduce injuries and fatalities in the Tetons. The Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation leads the program to heighten awareness of safe practices in the backcountry.
I have spent many years in the backcountry, and after attending this workshop I felt good that I was not a complete dope of unpreparedness. The speakers provided lots of information about getting ready for backcountry biking, boating, hiking and backpacking. A common theme was “What’s in your pack?” That’s an excellent concept for everyone who often “thinks” he or she knows about backcountry preparedness.
When you’re getting ready to travel deep into the backcountry, it’s easy to forget physical conditioning. It never becomes a concern until a person cannot physically perform an activity. Few people, in my opinion, consider whether they can handle a 22-mile Paintbrush Canyon-to-Cascade hike on which they will reach heights of 10,000-plus feet and usually encounter snow — all with a 10- to 15-pound pack on their back. To piggyback on the Backcountry Zero’s motto of preparedness, I say physical preparedness is just as important.
One of the best ways to increase your endurance for hiking, for example, is to hike. But how many of us are just hiking on weekends or doing the traditional Snow King climb? If you cannot get out until the weekends there are ways to use other workouts to get yourself in backcountry shape.
At my business, Training to Be Balanced, we encourage increasing your power, endurance and strength. One of the routines we use is called 24s (24 repetition of each: squats in place, lunges in place, squat jumps, split lunge jumps).
If you look at the mechanics of hiking it is the same movement over and over again, especially on a gradual singletrack, flat surface. But at times there are steep steps, sharp elevation changes, rocks and boulders, snow and ice. All of those change your normal hiking pattern and require you to use different muscles and energy systems. The 24s help prepare for those types of movements.
In addition to 24s you would do well to perform five exercises three times a week nonstop for 30 minutes at 10 repetitions or 45 seconds each.
Choose a pillar core strength exercise, such as a side plank. First you hold your body sideways on one hand and foot, with the hand and foot stacked. Then you raise your top hand and foot to create the letter “X” and hold.
Always pick some balance or balance strength exercise because hiking is single-leg movement. With single-leg dead lifts you hold weights in both hands, then hinge at the waist as though you’re picking up a golf ball. As you bend you bring the swing leg up so it’s in a straight line with your body.
Don’t forget some form of coordination and agility exercise. Try shuffling side to side for about 20 feet, then change directions after a burpee. The best preparation exercises are hip and chest openers. Or stretching. If the word “stretch” has no effect on you, try “lengthen.” Lengthen your hip flexors by holding a half-kneeling position. Lengthen your chest muscles by interlocking your fingers behind your head and pressing your elbows backward. Lengthen the entire front of your body by lying on your back longways on a foam roller and reaching out like the letter “X.”
I encourage you to always get ready for the backcountry by packing the right items and doing the right kinds of exercises.
About the Author
Augie Hernandez owns Training to Be Balanced LLC. He has a BS in Exercise Science from Michigan State University. Augie is also a Licensed Physical Therapist Asst., NSCA – Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, a 5th degree Black Belt, Functional Movement Screen Certified and a continuing education junkie. You can learn more about his training facility at http://trainingtobebalanced.com/ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When venturing into the backcountry, whether for a day or an extended trip, food and water are part of your safety plan. As modern humans living in a culture of relative abundance, it is easy to forget that inadequate food and dehydration are not merely a matter of discomfort but can actually be dangerous.
Wilderness nutrition recommendation number one: bring plenty of clean water to start, and some type of water disinfectant or purification system to replenish your supply throughout the day. Boiling water works well at camp but is not practical otherwise. Chlorine-based tablets are an inexpensive, lightweight option to keep in the bottom of your pack for emergencies if you don’t have or prefer not to bring a water filtration system.
Most adults will need anywhere from 3-5 liters of water for a day in the backcountry, depending on the duration of trip, level of intensity, environmental temperature, and level of fitness. High altitude, extremes of hot and cold temps, excessive sweating (sometimes difficult to gauge in windy and/or dry climates where sweat quickly evaporates), low level of physical fitness, and heavy packs increase fluid needs. It is best to sip small amounts throughout the day since you can only absorb roughly 1 ounce per minute.
You may be familiar with the annoyance of a dehydration headache. As this condition progresses due to inadequate fluid, fatigue and other factors that lead to poor decision making can create a dangerous situation.
Symptoms of Dehydration*:
Increased heart rate
Decreased urine output
Dark-colored urine output
The second most important wilderness nutrition goal: bring enough (or extra) food. Calories = energy. For safety reasons I always bring more food than I think I will need, just in case. Extra can be as simple as an energy-dense (high calorie) bar or extra trail mix at the bottom of my pack.
Unfortunately, the way we are encouraged to eat in the front country may not be what works best during a day of demanding physical activity in the backcountry. Heeding nutrition messages to “eat less” and avoid fat, sugar/carbohydrates, and salt can lead to a shortage of energy and key nutrients when you venture into the backcountry. Also, when you are working hard your core temperature rises and appetite decreases so you may need to eat in the absence of hunger, a counterintuitive situation for most of us.
Five hours of general hiking (not including uphill or a heavy pack) burns roughly 1,700 calories for a 130-pound adult and 2,400 calories if you weigh 180-pounds*. Shivering in cold, wet and/or windy conditions requires additional fuel.
Foods we may eat sparingly at home to avoid excessive calories such as nuts, peanut butter, and dried fruit are great choices for the backcountry when compact, lightweight sources of energy are your friend. Salty foods such as nuts and jerky provide sodium to replace what you lose in sweat throughout the day.
Carbohydrate foods provide a mix of quick- and slow-burning fuel for brain and muscles. We store roughly 1,400-1,800 calories of glycogen (storage form of carbs), in our liver to fuel our brains and in muscles to fuel activity. This is enough for about 1-3 hours of continuous moderate-to-high intensity exercise depending upon a variety of factors.
Any time you are breathing hard you are burning mostly carbs of some sort. When you are adjusting to high altitude, suffering from a lack of fitness, increasing your pace, climbing uphill, or moving in a hot or cold environment, your fuel mix will lean heavily toward carbohydrate sources. Some amount of fat and protein provide fuel during a long day of exercise, but adequate carb intake makes more protein available for a variety of important tasks. Many vital functions require amino acids from protein such as building and repairing muscles, making the variety of cells needed for blood, brain chemicals, immune system, digestion, and more.
While you have probably experienced grumpy moods or perhaps even headaches that accompany hunger, inadequate food (especially carbohydrates) can lead to other symptoms of low blood sugar that pose safety risks. These include: dizziness, confusion, disorientation, weakness, fatigue, and anxiety. Even irritability and a pounding headache can lead to poor decision making in the backcountry.
Factors that Affect Food Choices in the Backcountry*
Weight, perishability, taste, and texture of foods
Length of trip (or ration period)
Availability of water and fuel for food preparation
Environmental conditions (heat, humidity, cold, altitude, etc.)
Individual and group experience with cooking and food preparation
Special dietary needs (food allergies, medical conditions, etc.)
Beliefs about food and nutrition
With the variety of factors listed above that influence food you bring into the backcountry, I will add that keeping it simple is often the best strategy. After decades of backcountry experiences I still love a good PBJ sandwich (on whole grain bread), trail mixes with a fun variety of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips, whole wheat fig bars, and something salty like jerky or crackers and cheese. If I’m only out for the day I like to bring something fresh like grapes, an apple or orange, a small avocado or carrots—unless pack weight or space is an issue such as a rock climbing trip.
Enjoy your wilderness adventures and remember that all that fancy gear and clothing is great, but the basics of adequate food and water, the bane of many a backcountry expedition, remains! As my friend and backcountry food mentor at NOLS Claudia Pearson and I like to say: gear is good but food is better.
*Source: Howley Ryan, M. (2008). NOLS Backcountry Nutrition: Eating Beyond the Basics. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.
About the Author
Mary Ryan, MS, RDN, CEDRD, LD
Mary Ryan is a Master’s level Registered Dietitian with a special focus in behavioral nutrition as a Certified Eating Disorder specialist, licensed in Wyoming and Idaho. Beyond Broccoli Nutrition Counseling & Education is her private practice based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mary is the author of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Backcountry Nutrition: Eating Beyond the Basics (2008), a contributor to the Wilderness Medical Society’s Trail Mix column, and spends her free time outdoors as much as possible!
Backcountry Zero is launching a new podcast series this month that will share real stories of adventure, risk and rescue in the backcountry of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The podcast series, called The Fine Line, delves into the physical, mental and social dynamics of backcountry adventure and the fine line people are willing to walk between life and death in the quest for adventure.
The series is part of Backcountry Zero’s education and outreach program, which includes a blog, ambassador program, speaker series, field workshops and educational events.
The Fine Line launched on July 13th with the episode titled “A Single Step”. In this episode ski mountaineer Jessie Stover describes how a single step on Teewinot mountain turns the perfect ski day into a fight for survival. We also hear from Teton County Search and Rescue volunteer and medical advisor Dr. AJ Wheeler and Grand Teton National Park rescue ranger Philip Edmunds who were both involved in the harrowing rescue to save Jessie’s life and leg.
The Fine Line will be available on Sound Cloud and iTunes (coming soon) with a new episode every month.
The skills needed to move safely over snow are the foundation of mountaineering.
Un-roped falls on snow contribute significantly to accidents in the Teton Range. Unlike the large snow fields in the Cascades and some mountains in the East, the summer snow in the Teton Range is unique. While there are fewer large snow features on which to practice the consequences of a fall, the practiced skills required to safely navigate smaller snow features remain the same.
Don’t feel pressure to already
have these skills.
These skills take many years to learn
and even more to refine.
Enjoy the journey of learning
and gaining experience.
Learning and practicing solid footwork, specific techniques for walking on snow, how to move your body over snow covered terrain MUST happen BEFORE attempting to climb on steep snow.
You must learn how to use (and practice with them regularly) the tools needed for traveling on snow BEFORE taking them into the mountains.
Take a snow safety course with a local guide service such as Exum Mountain Guides to learn the critical fundamentals.
Read the snow travel portions of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills and Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Over Snow by Mike Zawaski.
Always maintain a high level of awareness as you move through the mountains.
A few important things to assess throughout your adventure include:
- Potential “run outs” or the consequences of sliding down a snow feature including steep slopes, snow fields exposed to cliffs and those that terminate in boulder fields.
- Be aware that rivers of ice cold water may be raging beneath the snow. Look for these places and do not walk on this snow or cross unless you are sure it can support your weight.
- Be aware of boulders scattered on and at the base of steep snow fields. These hazards increase your risk of injury if you slide.
- Changing snow conditions depending on sun, shade, aspect and terrain feature. The firmness of the snow influences the difficulty of moving over the snow. Choose the appropriate and safest travel techniques and tools.
- Monitor your own comfort level and fatigue.
Know and be responsible for your own capacity to safely travel over the terrain.
Speak up if you are not comfortable with the terrain, snow conditions or your skills.
Choose objectives that match your skills and experience.
Practice the following on belay from above and on a low angle snow field with safe run out (a snowfield that eases to a flat feature with no rocks at the bottom):
- Proper ascending and descending techniques.
- Self-arresting without an ice axe, just hands and feet.
- Regaining your balance from a slip using your ice axe. This “self-belay" is what prevents slips from progressing to slides and falls and is the standard use of an ice axe. Understand that successfully arresting a high speed slide is unlikely.
- Using your foot placements, body position, and self-belay with an ice axe to prevent a slide from ever occurring.
- Although it is most desirable to use the “self-belay” to prevent a slip from progressing to a slide, you must also practice proper ice axe technique to stop a slide from all positions - head first, on your back, on your belly.
Always wear a helmet and gloves.
Only glissade if you are well practiced in the skill and on slopes with low angles, soft snow, and safe run outs. Never glissade with crampons on your feet.
Going down is often much more difficult than going up. Before you ascend a snowfield consider the added challenge of descending.
Transitions on and off snow to rock or vegetation are also areas of difficulty and may be steeper and have deep and wide gaps between the rock and snow or thin soft snow that collapsing under your weight.
About the Author
Nancy Bockino grew up in the mountains of Idaho, Montana and Washington. She began climbing, backcountry skiing and working as a field ecologist in the early 1990’s. Nancy moved from the Cascades to Jackson Hole in 2000 and fell in love with the mountains, whitebark pine trees and the local community. Nancy keeps quite busy working as a part time guide for Exum, an ecologist caring for whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, an avalanche course leader, an instructor for Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute, an EMT and Wilderness First Responder, a member of Teton County Search and Rescue and as a member of the Ortovox USA ambassador team.
The weather plays a role in many of the accidents and fatalities that occur in the mountains, from avalanches to lightning strikes or people caught out in a storm and expiring from hypothermia.
Know before you go
Being prepared means not only gearing up for bad weather with the proper clothing but also knowing what clothing to take, based on the weather forecast. Therefore, part of being prepared should be arming yourself with a weather forecast.
In this day and age there is no reason anyone with half a brain and a smartphone should launch off on a backcountry adventure and be totally surprised by the weather. That is not to say you will never get caught in inclement weather, but at least you would have suspected, before you ever left the trailhead, that it could go bad.
Keeping up with the weather on a daily basis should become part of any outdoor adventurer’s routine. Being vigilant could save you the pain and embarrassment of shivering on a ledge, getting zapped by lightning or walking down from the Lower Saddle in a foot of new snow, in tennis shoes, in August.
When planning a backcountry adventure check the forecast every day. There are dozens of weather websites and apps to choose from. Of course, I would tell you to start with my own website, MountainWeather.com, or use forecast products that come directly from the National Weather Service. You should quit using that default weather app that comes with your phone.
For adventures around Jackson Hole and the Tetons you can go directly to MountainWeather.com/forecast to access everything you will need to make a study of the weather. All you need is about five minutes of uninterrupted, non-multitasking time and maybe a nice cup of joe. And yes, there will be some reading involved. It’s not just about looking at colorful satellite and radar images.
Get forecast details daily
The weather icons at the top of the forecast are just a snapshot of an entire 12-hour period; they don’t tell the whole story. Read the text portion of the forecast for details on what the weather is supposed to do each day.
You can usually trust the forecast out to about three days. Beyond that the accuracy drops exponentially. You need to check the forecast every day so you can track changes in the certainty of what the forecast is describing.
The next step is to click on the “Forecast Discussion and Outlook” and read it thoroughly. It will tell you why the weather is doing what it is doing and give you better idea about how much confidence you can put in the forecast itself.
The weather discussion will also give you an idea as to which direction the weather will be coming from and talk about the timing of fronts and storm systems that may be coming or going.
Be present in the backcountry
Be an astute observer in the backcountry. Watch the sky, and note the changes over the course of the day. Does the weather you are observing match the forecast? As an old mountain guide once told me, “What you see always trumps what the forecast said.” Perhaps if things are looking worse than the forecast you should consider turning around.
Armed with the most current forecast, you have no reason to be surprised by the weather. Knowing why and roughly when the weather might change or how severe it might get should help you make better decisions in the mountains.
Now go prepare for your next adventure by reading the whole forecast.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jackson Hole News&Guide on May 25, 2016.