A Guide to High-Altitude and Backcountry Safety
Basalt has many opportunities for fun, and it is important to have a “Safety First” mentality. Here are a number of safety tips that you may find helpful:
Weather and Seasonal Hazards
Summer days in the Colorado mountains are notorious for beautiful, cloudless mornings and intensely thunderous afternoons. Storms move in rapidly and temperatures drop suddenly. It’s not unusual for it to be 70 to 80 degrees in the morning and 50 to 60 degrees in the afternoon, depending on the altitude. Along with the cold temperatures and stormy skies comes the threat of lightning. When hiking or mountain biking, it’s best to plan for an early-morning start, especially if your route takes you above treeline.
High Altitude Tips
Basalt is at 6,611 feet above sea level. When you first arrive, acclimate yourself for a period of time with light activity. At high elevations, the atmosphere is thinner; there is less oxygen and less humidity available to you than at sea level. Throbbing headaches, feeling weak, lazy, dizzy and/or nauseous are all symptoms warning you to decrease your activity level and increase your water intake.
Acute mountain sickness occurs within a few hours to a few days after arrival at altitudes above 8,000 feet. The symptoms are characterized by headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and breathlessness. It can also be accelerated by drinking alcohol upon arrival to high altitudes without proper acclimation. To help prevent altitude sickness, avoid alcohol, drink plenty of liquids and don’t over-exert yourself.
At this elevation, the weather can change quickly. Take frequent breaks from the cold or heat. Even if the forecast calls for warm weather, it is important to have warm clothing in case there is a sudden change in temperature while you are out enjoying the day or when the sun sets. It is wise to layer your clothes, no matter the season. A T-shirt, wool sweater, nylon windbreaker with a hood and a bottle of water are basic equipment for just about any summer activity. Winter-sports enthusiasts should wear warm, waterproof gloves, hat, and socks, plenty of warm, water-resistant clothing and goggles or sunglasses with adequate UV protection.
Sunburns at high altitude can be more severe for a number of reasons, namely there is less atmosphere to absorb the ultraviolet rays. Year-round be sure to protect yourself with protective clothing, such as a hat with a brim, sunglasses (remember, if your skin burns more easily at high altitudes, your eyes will, too), use ample sunscreen on any exposed skin – face, neck, top of ears, hands – and wear SPF lip balm. This even applies on cloudy days – the Colorado sun is stronger than you think!
Tips to help you stay safe while you are on the river:
- Never boat or fish alone.
- Wear a properly fitted Personal Flotation Device at all times when you are in or near the river.
- Know about the dangers of hypothermia and how to deal with it. Know early signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration in hot weather.
- Carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it.
- Wear wading shoes or boot-foot waders with soles that grip the type of riverbed you’re on.
Living with Wildlife – Be Bear Aware
Keep trash cleaned up, and do not allow food to sit outside unattended. If you are camping, keep food stored in closed, bear-proof containers and sleep well away from food. Keep pets close by; it is best to have pets on a leash to avoid wandering. Keep a close eye on children; do not allow them to play outside after dusk or before dawn without close supervision. If you will be outside during dawn or dusk, be sure to make lots of noise and make your presence known. If you encounter wildlife, keep your distance, stay calm and back away slowly. If the animal approaches you in an aggressive manner, fight back.
Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card (CORSAR)
Colorado residents and visitors are served by dedicated volunteer search-and-rescue teams, including Mountain Rescue Aspen. Sheriffs and search-and-rescue teams do not charge for search and rescue in Colorado, so never hesitate to call for help. However, by purchasing a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card, you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which reimburses these organizations for costs incurred in during search and rescues across the state. The CORSAR card is available for $3 for a one-year card and $12 for five-year card. Note: The CORSAR card does not cover any medical transposition costs you may incur, such as a ground or air ambulance.
A CORSAR card can be purchased locally at Bristlecone Mountain Sports at 781 East Valley Road in Willits or online at www.colorado.gov/dola/search-and-rescue-fund.
Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and where to call if you don’t return when you planned.
For more information, visit Mountain Rescue Aspen’s website at www.mountainrescueaspen.org.
The 10 Essentials: a checklist from Mountain Rescue Aspen
Navigation: Map and compass/GPS. Know where you are going and how to get there (and back).
Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses/ski goggles, lip balm. The sun is much stronger at higher elevation and it is possible to get burned any time of year.
Insulation: Waterproof/wind gear and extra clothing. Layers are helpful – stick to tech fabrics that wick and avoid wearing cotton.
Illumination: Flashlight/headlamp. A light source is helpful for finding your way in the dark and signaling for help.
First-aid supplies: A prepackaged first-aid kit combined with the proper knowledge will be useful in case of an injury.
Fire: Lighter/matches/fire starter. A fire can provide warmth and be used to signal for help. (Caveat: In drought years there may be a fire ban or restrictions in place due to an increased risk of wildfire. In this instance, a fire is not recommended).
Gear: Knife or multi-purpose tool and a repair kit. You never know what you may need to fix in the backcountry, and tools such as a knife (and duct tape) can help in a given situation
Nutrition: Extra food. If you adventure takes longer than expected, you want to be sure that you do not get hungry.
Hydration: Extra water and a way to purify it. Staying hydrated is important, and even more so at higher elevations.
Emergency shelter: Tarp, bivy sack or emergency blanket. It may be necessary to have a form of emergency shelter, whether it is a late afternoon summer storm that rolls in or a challenging hike that is taking longer than expected.