Mountain Education Resources
What To Do When Bad Weather Looms
Common sense tells you to get out of it. You don’t want to add hypothermia, dehydration, or exhaustion to your worries.
If it is a rain shower, you can put on your rain gear that will keep your
skin dry (you’ll have no problem with staying warm) and keep on hiking. If there is a chance of lightning, don’t wait out the storm under the big tree in the middle of the meadow, get to low ground in the forest and pitch to stay dry and warm. You don’t know how big or how long will be the storm. If you have a place to dry out at the end of your day, other than your tent (which may be pitched in the rain and be wet from the start), like a ski area, restaurant, motel room, friend’s cabin, etc., then keep going. There’s not much worse than pitching wet, except packing up wet!
If it is snow, start thinking shelter soon. If it is real cold and you are up high and exposed and are pretty sure that this storm is going to be just a freak summer snow that may drop 4 to 6 inches, keep on hiking until you end you day. As long as the fresh snow doesn’t accumulate above mid-shin, where you’re going to have to take tall steps to slog through it, exhausting yourself, dealing with it may only last the next sunny day. If you are either early or late season, implying that the storm may last a while rather than be a brief one, you might want to “Hunker Down” sooner so you pitch dry and ride it out dry. If you are already on several feet of snow and are about to experience more, find a safe place to pitch out of avalanche paths (learn where avalanches are prone to slide) and wait it out, perhaps, depending on the amount of new snow that falls, for a day or two after the sun comes out (allows the new snow to settle into the old, making it all more stable).
Previous experience in bad weather will tell you what sort of reaction will take. During your thru hike preparation phase, get out in the bad weather and train yourself. Pitch in your back yard during the next rain storm, go up to Saddle Junction in the snow and look around, maybe pitch in the meadow and explore the next day. Take a class in avalanche awareness and avoidance. Expose yourself to the conditions you expect to have when out on your thru hike before you start, so you’ll be ready for it, more confident, and safe.