There has been an increase in the number of alpine rescues for people venturing into the Colorado high country without the appropriate clothing and equipment. Many high-country emergencies can be avoided by preparing yourself with some essential items. The list of equipment that I’m sharing with you is the one I use for a one-day (3-12 hours) summer hike or climb in Colorado. Use it as an example, but tailor your own list to meet your needs and the site conditions for your hike. Always make your own list and double check that you have everything before departing on your adventure.
You should tailor your list for a number of factors, including weather, personal needs, season, predicted temperatures, site-specific conditions, on-trail or off-trail hiking, technical or non-technical, and the difficulty level. For example, if I am climbing in the Elk Range I know there is an increased risk of encountering rock fall due to the geology there. So, I would take a climbing helmet with me. If I’m climbing in May or June, there is a good chance I’ll have to cross snowfields, so I take my ice ax and possibly crampons. If you are going to be climbing on icy rocks, you need an ice ax and crampons. You can encounter icy conditions in any month of the year, but not as likely in July and August. Spend some extra time planning what you will need to make sure you are prepared.
Adjust your quantities based on your personal needs and the distance you plan to hike. Don’t skimp on water. Half of the weight that I typically start out carrying is water. Water is heavy, but it will lighten as you hydrate yourself during the day. Most people can survive for 2-3 weeks without food, so I seldom pack a lot of food. You want to pack enough to give you plenty of energy for your hike. If you get cold easily, pack extra clothing or warmer clothing.
When I see people climbing above 11,000 feet wearing shorts and running shoes without a pack for extra gear, I think it is foolhardy. One time I saw a person climbing a Fourteener with a light jacket, no water, and a plastic shopping bag that they intended to use if it rained. You don’t have to go very far into the backcountry to become disoriented, wander off of the trail, and become lost. Low clouds and unexpected snow squalls can cut your visibility down to a few yards.
Make sure your light sources have good batteries. I recommend having at least two light sources and some extra batteries. It is common for people to misjudge time and end up hiking back in the dark. Hiking in the dark affects your balance and makes it harder to see tripping hazards.
Another consideration is to think about being 3+ miles into the wilderness and being injured, possibly unable to walk. You could be out for at least one night before help arrives. If you are alone (not recommended), it could be much longer. Always let someone know where you are going and your intended return time.
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