Avalanche danger

Read our snow page for more.

Hiking the PCT can quickly become winter trekking late in the season. The risks for injury and death increase at this time of year. There is extensive knowledge, experience and gear needed to safely finish the PCT after snow has fallen. Having knowledge of avalanche terrain, alternate routes, strategies for keeping warm, dry, found and hydrated are key to safe backcountry travel.

Cold temperatures, freezing rain and early winter snowfall compete with many hikers’ desire to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in one season. We’ve seen the results, when “summit fever” outweighs rational thought. Your decisions may not only put you at risk of serious injury or death, they can put the lives of rescuers in peril as well.

Avalanche risk can be assessed from multiple variables. Which direction is the slope facing? How steep is the slope? How much fresh snow or windblown snow is there? What is the base layer? Current temperature, wind speed and direction? What is the difference in temperature on the ground and at the top of the snow? How is the human element (you and your group) increasing the danger?

PCT hikers crossing a slope that’s steep enough to avalanche. Fall 2013. Photo by Carolyn Burkhart

Traveling the PCT when it’s covered in snow means exposing yourself to potential avalanche risk. The PCT was not designed for travel when snow is on the ground. In many places, it’s unwise to travel the trail during these conditions. Areas along the trail are well known for their avalanche danger. That’s why specific winter travel and avalanche preparedness skills are critical. It’s highly unwise to unknowingly expose yourself to this hidden danger.

Avoid unnecessary hazards. Learn from friends, take an avalanche course and study up. And practice safe snow traveling skills.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center publishes current snow conditions starting in November. Its website states: “As this cold northern air is mixed progressively southward by fall storms, pronounced changes in the air temperatures over the Northwest are a normal result. These large temperature variations can result in rapid decreases in the snowpack stability in areas with sufficient snow to slide. Wet cool weather depositing substantial snowfall at the higher elevations followed by rapid warming still common in the fall can quickly produce significant avalanche danger. Remember that seemingly insignificant slides may be dangerous.”

Snow can be fun, beautiful and dangerous. Photo by Carolyn Burkhart.

Snow can be fun, beautiful and dangerous. Photo by Carolyn Burkhart.

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Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton