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Mountain Survival Skills & Tips

Updated on September 4, 2012

Survival Tactics

How many of you have lived somewhere it has snowed? In today’s world, it is likely that you all have. In the United States it snows from coast to coast, this alone gives you a reason to prepare for cold weather survival. By doing so, you are bettering yourself as well as your community if an event should unravel. Today, American’s are constantly seeking work and are always on the move, this is why it is your duty to learn the basics. We will begin with Mountain Survival.

Mountain Safety

If you are traveling as a group, you will want to know where their limitations lay. If you push them past their limitations, your group will soon become ineffective and perhaps stranded. This being said, make sure you stay as a group. You will want to make sure that you are evaluating the weather constantly as it changes at a moment’s notice at high elevations. Ensure that you find shelter during storms.

Make sure to remove snow from on top of your shelter constantly, this is to prevent using all of your oxygen. You’ll want to stay well hydrated and nourished in such a harsh climate. Don’t eat the snow as it will dehydrate your body. You will need to melt the snow in order to drink it. Keep in mind that you will need a lot as water expands when frozen.

Remember to keep calm during a survival and emergency situation. This is your most valuable asset and can be the difference between life and death. Make sure that you stay warm and dry; this will help you conserve energy since you expel energy to generate heat. If possible ensure you tell someone where you are headed. Create a detailed route so that if something happens, you can be located.

Mountain Weather

Cirrus Clouds: These clouds are high altitude, thin and feathery. This cloud formation can act as your weather man as they can give warning of bad weather 24 hours in advance.

Stratus: These clouds resemble fog and are gray in appearance. They resemble a blanket or sheet over the sky.

Cumulus: These clouds are thick and appear to look like cotton balls.

Fog: Is formed when the air is cooled and the excess vapor condenses.

Anabatic Winds: These winds blow up mountain valleys and replace warm rising air, these winds are usually light.

Katabatic Winds: These winds blow down the mountain valley and are usually heavy.

Another indicator of inclement weather approaching is insects. They will begin swarming two to four hours before storm. Large animals will begin feeding four to six hours before. Two useful things to know are that cattle will huddle together in lower elevations, and that the tree line stops at 10,000 ft.


What is an avalanche? Well an avalanche for those of you that don’t know is a mass of snow carrying debris. The parts of an avalanche from top to bottom are called the start, the track and the run out zone. We will now look at the types of avalanches.

Loose Snow: are usually small and occur after a snowstorm. One thing to note is that the most dangerous types of avalanches pile up for long periods of time.

Slab Avalanches: This type occurs when snow is piled on top of ice, they are found on slopes with a grade of 35% or larger. Snow Metamorphosis is when snow melt works to act as a natural lubrication to increase the speed at which the snow travels. Also, a fresh pile of snow also increases the speed and likelihood of an avalanche. Wet avalanches can reach speeds up to 60mph whereas dry avalanches can reach speeds of up to 150mph.

If you are climbing or moving on or around a mountain it is paramount to know that south facing slopes are the safest, or in other words the leeward slope. This is because the majority of snow accumulates on the windward slope. Keep in mind that elevation will increase the chance of an avalanche. In the event of an avalanche you have a 50% chance of survival after the first 30 minutes. This means that you should avoid all parts of avalanche prone areas and if possible seek an alternative route.

Route planning will be a necessity to ensure your group survives. As I have listed some of the considerations that should be taken are terrain, weather, avalanches, snow conditions, and your group’s ability. The next topic we will be covering is mountain health awareness.

Mountain Health Awareness

While in the mountains most of your energy will be utilized to make heat, the number is a staggering 75 percent. Twenty-five percent of that is used to rebuild the body; this is why it is detrimental that you stay well nourished. If you have a hard time staying well fed, then a mountain environment will be hard to adapt to. You should be consuming roughly 4,500 calories daily which is about two times the size of the daily average.

Accute Mountain Sickness can occur 24-48 hours after reaching elevation. Mild symptoms are rapid breathing, rapid pulse, vomiting, headache, and fatigue. It generally affects those that are above 8,000 feat. Your more prone to the sickness if you live at sea level or have had it before. Severe symptoms include tightness of the chest, bluish skin, coughing up blood, and unable to walk a straight line. To resolve this issue you must come down the mountain as quickly as possible. Make sure you visit the nearest health care provider in cases related to accute mountain sickness.

Now that you have an idea of what it takes to survive in a mountain survival situation, you are ready to take the next step towards your own survival. Stay ready for my next hub on cold weather survival!


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