Tips and the gear you should carry for optimal high country safety when getting up near or above treeline
Traveling to the high country of the Four Corners region provides breathtaking views; but before embarking on your own adventure to soak in some sublimity, make yourself aware of the potential hazards of getting high into the mountains, and plan accordingly.
High-Altitude Health Risks
Changes in elevation mean changes in barometric pressure. Barometric pressure drops as elevation increases, which decreases levels of available oxygen. An unacclimated recreationalist risks suffering the symptoms of altitude sickness. Even an individual that is used to higher elevations can suffer from altitude sickness, should he or she ascend too rapidly. Give your body time to acclimate and make sure to take plenty of water breaks, especially on the ascent. The elevation change also increases the evaporation rate, which leads to dehydration. The average person at altitude should drink at least three to four quarts of water a day.
If you begin to experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and dizziness, or begin to experience physical discomfort, start your descent to lower altitude. The only cure for altitude sickness is to get to a lower elevation.
Exposure to harmful ultraviolet B (UV-B) light also increases at higher elevations and in result, increases sunburn risk and damage to unprotected eyes. Equip yourself with proper sun protection, such as sun-protective clothing, a brimmed hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.
In your pack:
o Sun-protective clothing (recommended)
Changes in Weather
Mountain conditions are conducive to storms. A dry, sunny day can rapidly give way to inclement weather; be prepared for dynamic weather patterns. Getting caught in a storm could result in hypothermia, and getting caught above treeline during a thunderstorm increases the risk of lightning strikes. It is best to avoid high-country storms all together. As storms are more likely to occur later in the day, plan to start your trip to the high country early in the morning and get back below treeline by midday. Sometimes avoiding a storm is inevitable, so it is best to be prepared if you find yourself caught in unexpected weather conditions. Bring both dry and warm layers, such as a rain jacket and fleece (a spare pair of socks is always a great idea, too).
In your pack:
o Warm layers
o Spare socks (recommended)
Losing Your Way
All recreationalists should anticipate and plan for the unexpected and carry a few emergency items in their pack (even if the plan is a short day-hike) in the event of losing the trail. Beginner and advanced outdoor enthusiasts alike are susceptible to getting lost. Being aware of your surroundings, making note of landmarks, leaving markers on the trail (little rock mounds, also called cairns, are great) and carrying navigational tools such as a map, compass and/or a GPS help to alleviate the risk of getting lost. If you plan to use a GPS, familiarize yourself with the device beforehand and have a map and compass as a backup, should the GPS malfunction.
If you find yourself on a solo adventure, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
In the event of an unexpected overnight, it is wise to have along a fire-starter such as waterproof matches or a lighter. Extra food, a way to purify water (tablets, drops, filters, etc.) and survival tools like a flashlight/headlamp and a pocket knife are also good items to have.
In your pack:
o First-Aid Kit
o GPS (recommended)
o Radio (recommended)
o Fire starter (matches/ lighter)
o Extra food
o Water purification method
o Pocket knife
As a general rule while enjoying the outdoors, avoid any interaction with wild animals. The National Park Service advises not to approach, feed or disturb wildlife for your own safety. If you do encounter wildlife, maintain a safe distance. Even an adorable marmot could be a carrier of disease. Be aware of dangerous animals, such as mountain lions and bears that inhabit the high country. Avoid encounters at all costs. Attacks are uncommon — mountain lions and bears tend to avoid human confrontation — but should you find yourself faced with such an animal, stay calm, make yourself appear larger and try to scare away the animal with loud noises. Never approach a bear or mountain lion.