The leaves have almost all but fallen from our aspen grove surrounding the International Alpine Guides home office in June Lake, CA. Yosemite Valley rock climbing days are starting later and ending earlier as the sun dwindles here in the Northern hemisphere. The days inevitably are becoming shorter, and cooler; finally skis, boots, ice tools, and mismatched gloves put away last season are starting to be pulled out from their summer storage.
“Get the Gear”: Not only is this a classic Portlandia episode, it’s also what we should all be muttering to ourselves as the outdoor season is shifting. Most of us are used to checking our batteries in our home smoke detectors during each switch of the clocks. But how many of us check our gear at the start of each season? Missing gloves, ski straps, poles, hats, broken boot buckles, ski socks with a hole in them, broken zippers. Any of this sound familiar? We all have that pile of gear that needs repair or replaced. Patch the holes in your puffy big and small, sharpen your crampons, and ice tools. Now is the time to dial in your gear, long before you leave the parking lot for your epic winter adventure or the first day on the slopes.
Taking time now to go through your gear make sure everything is working, washed, treated for the winter elements. You might even make a few extra dollars for new gear if you start early and sell old gear online or your local used outdoor store (The Red Cross is also taking donations for outdoor clothing for victims of our California fires).
Think Power: Batteries, replace them in your headlamps, avalanche beacons, and anything else that you use a lot. Tape a replacement set together and keep that in your car, pack, or somewhere easy to grab. With longer nights, we burn through those batteries a lot faster than on longer summer days. It's a good idea to keep some dedicated for your house, for when that incoming winter storm knocks out power unexpectedly. I always invest in a new headlamp each winter season, knowing I will inevitably lose one or loan one out in the season. Make sure your cars, and day packs are also stocked with them. You never know when you might need an extra light or loan one to your climbing partner one early morning. How many of us have had a long hike or ski out after hearing, “Shoot I forgot my headlamp”! Don’t get caught in the dark
Restock the Essentials: This is also a great time to add a few extra essentials to your day packs that are used frequently. Prepare your layers. WFR’s (Wilderness First Responders) are taught to think like a burrito when preparing for the cold, making sure you have all your fillings/layers before venturing out into a winter environment.
Do you have: Wicking layers (synthetic, wool, or silk); base and insulating layers (both top and bottom); finally wind/rain layers? These can also be used to treat and prevent hypothermia of a partner who is cold and wet. Remember, all wet layers need to be replaced with warm and dry ones for anyone who you are treating for hypothermia. We always recommend bringing along a warm puffy down or synthetic jacket in the winter, even on warmer days. They are lightweight and are a good insurance policy against any unforeseen delays or circumstances such as a friend or other backcountry traveler getting injured and needing assistance.
Keeping an extra pair of gloves, beanie or buff, and socks in your winter daypack can alleviate some suffering on a wet longer day than expected, while also preventing localized cold injuries like immersion foot, and frostbite. We always recommend bringing along a warm puffy down or synthetic jacket in the winter, even on warmer days. They are lightweight and are a good insurance policy against any unforeseen delays or circumstances such as a friend or other backcountry traveler getting injured and needing assistance.Having extra clothes can make all the difference in your day when the unexpected happens.
Restock some quick snacks, M & M’s, Snickers, Emergen C, hot chocolate, your favorite energy or granola bar. Throw out that old squished half eaten bar at the bottom of your pack and start over for a new season. These shouldn’t replace your day to day food stash, only to supplement if you need it or you find your partner bonking out on a longer than expected day. Lastly for those of us mountain residents, where winter driving is essential, it's always a wise idea to throw extra layers, a blanket or a sleeping bag in your car in case you get stuck during your commute home.
M.A. R.N., WEMT
Jessica DeMartin is a climber, skier, Emergency Registered Nurse, Prescott College Alumni, Veteran Instructor for NOLS Wilderness Medicine, and former Yosemite Search and Rescue team member.
Want to learn how to climb in the winter? Check out our Intro to Winter Mountaineering Course