It’s Spring in the Sierra — Pack Your Puffy!

While the calendar says April, Mother Nature is not yet fully on board with the spring concept (three feet of snow in the mountains last week!?). And while hard core skiers are reveling, many others are itching to get to their warm weather outdoor activities.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get back on the trail, but rather you may need to prepare differently. If you’re a cyclist, hiker, camper, hunter or fisher — or someone who just enjoys spending time at higher elevation – you should be prepared for changeable weather throughout the spring and snow and mud well into the summer months.

Preparing for spring activities in snowy places is like preparing for winter snow activities. The biggest difference is the range of temperatures and conditions you’ll likely encounter in the mountains. The trailhead may be dry and clear, but an hour in to your activity, you may find mud bogs or snow drifts, particularly on north-facing slopes.

Attire

  • Wear shoes or boots that fit well. Rubber soles are ideal if your foot is contacting the ground.
  • Dress in layers and opt for wool or high-tech fabrics that wick sweat and insulate. Sierra Trading Post offers this guide. Ideally, carry an extra pair of socks so you can swap out if yours get soaked (this applies to gloves, too).
  • Take a waterproof outer layer. Even if rain or snow are not in the forecast, the Sierras are notoriously unpredictable.
  • Carry a pair of gloves, even if it’s warm and dry at the start. If you know it will be wet, pack a spare.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses. Hats protect from sun exposure and retain body heat.
  • Wear sunscreen and chapstick. Whether you’ve got a sunny Sierra Nevada day or you’ll be hiking through snow fields, the sun's ultraviolet rays can do serious skin damage quickly.

Stuff to take

  • Carry adequate food and water. We don’t think as much about water when it’s not hot, but staying hydrated is essential. Unless you carry a water purifier, you should not count on refilling at streams.
  • If you’re heading out on a long jaunt, carry a light source — headlamp or flashlight— in case the sun beats you home. Here’s some REI advice on selecting one.
  • If your outing includes an overnight stay, be sure to bring adequate clothing and shelter for changeable mountain weather and a fire starter (matches, lighter, strike igniter – or consider a hi-tech option from REI.) Assume the ground where you sleep will still hold a lot of moisture, so include a ground tarp under your tent to stay dry.
  • Carry a cell phone or radio for emergencies, but do not count on it, as reception will vary.

Strategy

  • Stay on designated trails. If snow drifts block your way, consider walking on top to make sure you don’t lose your way. If you must walk around, get back to the trail as quickly as possible.
  • Explore with a friend (in any weather). There is safety, and fun, in numbers.
  • If the weather does take a sudden turn during your outing, your best bet is to stay put until it passes. If you’ve packed adequate food and clothing, you should be in good shape and won’t risk getting lost or putting yourself at higher danger for exposure.

The Sierra Nevada mountains offer us a spectacular, year-round playground right in our backyard. Enjoy them! Just make sure when you head out, you pack your common sense.

And if you do turn an ankle, take a fall or experience other bone or joint injury or pain, see an expert at Great Basin Orthopaedics. Our surgeons have the skill and understanding to get you back to doing what you love to do quickly.