Friday, December 10, 2010



Hey folks responsible risk is one of those subjects where differing opinions abound. We as a society decided to collectively work to send humans to the moon. Many would argue that this was a terrible decision based on the risk and cost.

Winter conditions are with us and this requires us all to have a much more sober approach to our back country activities.

Around here winter means it is off-season for the park's staffs. Area parks have at best extremely reduced staffing levels.

A back country camping site that is a football field distance from a fire road or Skyline Drive can suddenly have its shortest approach be miles away from the park boundary after an overnight ice or snowstorm closes Skyline Drive to traffic.

During winter it is a good mental exercise to do your risk reward safety planning as though you or your party can only depend on friends and family for rescue. Is what you are doing worth doing if in an emergency friends or family would have to drive from home, tromp into the back country and get you out? If the answer is no than it is time to rethink your plans. Whether it is good Samaritans, volunteer SAR organizations, or professional responders, winter conditions mean emergency responses will require substantially greater effort and risk and the availability of far fewer resources. If you would not expect your loved ones to rescue you then you should not expect complete strangers to. In reality they will but it is not responsible for you to make plans with that expectation.

During the winter the number of good Samaritan's who might just luckily cross your path is going to drop by as much as a factor of one hundred.

Your time distance equations need to be drastically rethought. That half hour stroll on the fire road in the summer may be a two hour herculean struggle in waist deep snow.

It should always be a part of your routine to have thought through your emergency planning. This is particularly true in the winter. Safety margins are critical. Cold can be a very stealthy but lethal danger. As long as you are walking your exertion furnace can keep you warm but what would happen if you suddenly could not walk had to wait over night for help and the temperature dropped another fifteen degrees?

How about this mental exercise. With what you are about to wear and carry on your day hike could you sit under your fully running shower at home for fifteen minutes then walk out into your back yard and either make yourself comfortable or at least survive for 24 hours?

If you are from snow country and new to this area please realize that six inches of snow here will mean almost nothing will be able to move on the roads for a day. Two feet of new snow and it will be days before the roads are open. Residents do not routinely own snowmobiles so snow bound roads mean no one is going anywhere. I would not be surprised to learn that in the whole city of Washington DC there is not one snowmobile available within the emergency service departments.

I can go on but I think you get the idea.

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