Dangers in winter and effects on tour planning

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    Dangers in winter and effects on tour planning

    Winter tours, from simple winter walks over a winter hike or snowshoe tour to full-blown winter ascents of climbing routes in the mountains, have their own special charm and their own unique aesthetics. An all-covering pristine blanket of snow, the crackle of the footsteps, the muted silence, the gentle trickle of snowflakes on the tent, the cold, clear air and the moments when the sun warms and the surroundings sparkle, the crackle and crackle of the warming Oven in the hut - these are the grandiose impressions that will be remembered for many years!

    But the winter and the cold also harbor dangers, but they can be well prepared. For example, the days are significantly shorter, which is a prudent tour requires. Through the snow, the paths can be snowed in and no longer recognizable, dangerous areas such as sinkholes can be covered. Of course, avalanches are always to be expected in the mountains. In the end, the cold itself requires well-matched clothing, functional equipment and some precautions.

    In the multi-part series "Outdoor Winter" I present the most important topics: Dangers in winter and effects on the tour planning such as Choosing the right clothes and equipment, The articles should encourage you to go out in the winter and experience adventures, but also to come home safe and filled with great experiences.

    Winter is an endurance test for wildlife that often ends in mortality! One request in advance: winter is an endurance test for wildlife that often ends fatally! Please be careful and observe some basic rules: be sure to stay on the paths and open spaces, do not go cross-forest-one! Generally, we stick to wild rest and protected areas. We behave as calmly as possible, do not choose our route along the tree line, observe animals from a great distance and behave in the twilight time particularly considerate, since the animals are here mostly at the food. We choose bivouac places carefully, far away from animal tracks. Wildlife protects itself through energy-saving measures, minimizing movement and usually retreating to protected environments and forests. Each disorder drastically reduces the chances of survival!

    So let's start with part 1. 

    Dangers in winter and effects on tour planning

    We move in the wild, so you have to be able to read nature. This includes handling the map, compass, altimeter and possibly GPS device. Areas that are well-known in the summer can look very different in the winter and provide quite different, possibly deadly, difficulties!

    Planning and preparation requires careful study

    • the weather and the avalanche danger
    • the route, especially length, steepness, exposure
    • the course of the route and the possibilities for retreat as well as the presumably tricky places
    • equipment (clothing, orientation, emergency and safety equipment) 

    day length

    Winter is the dark season. Depending on the region, it only lasts between six and eight hours. This, of course, has an effect on the route planning: the daily stages must be created significantly shorter. In addition, ice and high snow can make it significantly more difficult to move forward - so you can do much less distance per hour compared to the summer. If you can count on eight hours a day or more in summer, you should only plan for about six hours or less in winter. Also to find a storage place and to prepare accordingly takes longer in the winter.

    Rules of thumb for calculating the hiking time

    The following two rules can be used to roughly calculate the marching time. The Swiss Alpine Club SAC specifies the following formula for calculating the marching time:

    Calculation of the hiking time

    Time in hours = (height difference in m / 400) + (horizontal difference in km / 4)

    In addition, there is an hour per 800 meters descent.

    In Germany one expects something more generous. A hiker returns per hour: 300m ascent or 500m descent and 4km horizontal distance. The smaller value is then halved and added to the larger value.

    In principle, it is safer, especially in winter, to generously round up! When determining the march time, the weakest group member must be assumed, the nature of the terrain and the paths, the weather conditions and the ability and routine of the hikers must be included. For one-day tours, I always count on at least one hour of time reserve!

    weather condition

    As with any tour, the expected weather conditions must be included in the planning. I mostly use the service meteoblue (also as an iPhone app). Above all, two values are of interest in winter: temperature and precipitation. Study the (alpine) weather forecasts, but keep in mind that predictions that go beyond three days are more predictions (or, to put it more harshly, oracles) and less accurate predictions. observed on the way the weather, pay attention to the barometer. A rule of thumb: the clearer the sky, the colder it gets!

    avalanche danger

    Avalanche danger means danger to life! The prerequisite to avoid deadly avalanche accidents are good knowledge in snow and avalanche science. To convey this knowledge even in a rudimentary way neither here in this blog nor in textbooks not sufficiently possible, so why not train in avalanche courses! If you do not have this knowledge, inform yourself about a potential avalanche danger - and plan tours only through non-avalanche-prone areas.


    Due to the shorter days and the changed landscape, the orientation in winter is much more difficult. When the sky is cloudy, the snow blows or a whiteout, orientation is impossible. A routine handling of map, compass and GPS is therefore urgently needed and must be practiced again and again! Going to march number and their calculation must be seated so that you can quickly and safely retreat in the event of a fall. These retreats should be worked out already during the route planning at home. The book by Wolfgang Linke has been the standard work for years to learn outdoor navigation: Orientation with map, compass, GPS*.

    route planning 

    If you put together the points mentioned above, you have a framework for successful tour planning. As perfect as possible preparation with topographic maps at the home desk and skilled handling of map, compass and GPS on the road are immensely important - a lot of buffer for unforeseen detours does not remain in the winter namely. Include this buffer in the daily plans or march tables! 

    It is best to also plan the retreat and escape routes in the event of a weather change, an accident or simply poor condition from home. Several ways to a safe place, such as a village, a mountain lodge or a road, to include in the planning. Defining checkpoints: if you do not reach them in the designated time, choose the safest option or retreat!

    This lays the foundations for pre-planning a winter adventure. In the next part of the article series "Outdoor Winter" I will discuss the equipment and the choice of clothes.

    I look forward to comments and lively discussions! Anyone who has any other tips on the subject of "outdoor winter", they may share, yes she must, here!

    This article is part 1 of the series Outdoor winter:

    More on the subject: Clothing: the optimized onion principle // winter bivouac // Daypack in winter // Shopping guide for winter gear

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