Routefinding

Winter routefinding gets challenging when bad weather hides the destination or landmarks along the way. Study the map ahead of time and become familiar with the terrain you will cross. Note broad features such as ridges, ravines, streams, and changes in steepness of the slope so that when you encounter them, you'll have an idea where you are. An altimeter is a vital companion to a compass for routefinding. If you cross an obvious ravine, for example, an altimeter should be able to pinpoint your position in the ravine by giving you an elevation to check on the map.

When the visibility is good, route features often stand out more clearly than in the summer. Ledges and couloirs hold snow and show up sharply against dark surrounding rock features. Ridges or aretes blown free of snow stand out against the white of a snow face.

Avalanche hazard often dictates changes in the usual summer route, which may lead through an active avalanche path. Heavy snowfall, warm temperatures, or wind can increase the hazard of slab and loose-snow avalanches. Ridges are safer from avalanche than gullies and broad open slopes; windward slopes are safer than leeward. Never underestimate the danger of avalanche.

Wands are a big help in finding the return route during winter's poor weather and limited visibility, and when wind-driven snow covers your tracks. (For more details on routefinding on snow, sec Chapter 12.)

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