Daire’s Quick and Dirty Guide for Planning a Backcountry Adventure!
Each summer I have the pleasure of guiding backcountry trips near and far for Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. Sometimes to places I’ve never been before. Over the years I’ve refined my approach so that I can on-sight with ease even the most complicated trips. Here are my tips and tricks for styling your next backcountry trip like a pro.
1) The Seven P’s – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. The more research you can do before a trip the better. Getting going is often the hardest part, not for a lack of information but more likely information overload from online resources, which may or may not be accurate. For this reason, I am a big proponent of printed guidebooks. Look for the most recent addition for the best and most accurate information on approaches, camping, route descriptions, photos, descents and very important local ethics and logistics. I’ll often complement this with online resources such as Mountain Project, ACMG Mountain Conditions Reports and other user’s trip reports to get a feel for current conditions and pertinent information.
Once I have a general overview of the trip, I go GPX hunting. Oftentimes other users have uploaded GPX files of their past trips, providing a digital breadcrumb trail you can download onto your GPS device of choice. If I can’t find a GPX file, I’ll use Google Earth to create one given all the information I’ve gathered and from guidebook maps. All that’s left is to download the file on to your GPS device, I use Gaia GPS – more on that below.
2) Navigation – Gaia GPS is an incredibly powerful navigation tool that lives as an app on your smartphone allowing you to navigate with ease even outside of cell service. I almost solely rely on Gaia GPS for backcountry navigation these days. It does have a bit of a learning curve to fully utilize all its functions, so I recommend having a look at our 1-day “Digital Trip Planning and Electronic Navigation with Gaia GPS” to start navigating like a pro. Because I rely on Gaia and it is a piece of technology on my phone that I can drop or run out of battery on I do like to have a back-up. Firstly, always bring an auxiliary battery to charge your phone – key! After that you have three options for your backup depending on your budget:
- Carry a map and compass! The advantage of this system is it’s cheap. The disadvantage is it’s slow in the field. Check out our 1-day map and compass course if you need a refresher.
- Carry a second GPS device. I recommend the InReach Explorer as it doubles as an Emergency Beacon, which you should also be carrying!
- Carry a GPS enabled watch such as the Garmin Fenix 6, which have dedicated maps right on the screen. This is my go-to!
3) Emergency Preparedness – For me, there are three tenants of Emergency Preparedness – First Aid Kit, Tarp and Communication Device. More important then the contents of the First Aid Kit itself is the knowledge to know how to use what’s in your kit – I recommend looking into taking a Wilderness First Aid course, we offer 20/40 and 80-hour wilderness first aid courses. A tarp can come in handy if you get ambushed in an unexpected storm – I use the Rab Superlite Emergency shelter. Lastly, I never go on a trip into the backcountry without some way of communicating with the outside world. My go-to is the InReach Mini. It weighs next to nothing and is just as functional as the larger devices when paired to your phone.
4) Weather – Alpine trips revolve around the weather. So, having a good handle on the forecast and different resources out there can help prevent sitting in your tent for 2 days instead of standing on top of the summit. We’ve been using SpotWX with great success for a number of years now. It gives you accurate forecasts for the exact area your interested in on a very easy to use google maps like interface. The best part is it’s FREE! Make sure you compare a few different models and see how they are comparing to get an average. Every model will give a slightly different forecast as they all use different algorithms. Don’t get lost in the details, look for trends!
So the next time you’re planning for a backcountry adventure, make sure you prepare like a pro.
Daire Maguire – ACMG Apprentice Alpine Guide/Hiking Guide