After the tragic events of the last few days though I thought it may be wise to put out some helpful safety notes for those intending to head for the higher Sierra Nevada mountains this winter. Most of this is common sense but it may act as a useful checklist before your trip.
1) Check weather forecast
In particular I recommend EiALERT group pages (Facebook), AEMET and of course the Sierra Nevada Ski pages. Look out for wind gust speeds for your intended altitude. Over 40km/hr and you might struggle to stay upright, bearing in mind you might well be on an icy slope at the time! Look out for a deteriorating situation during the day. If so, start earlier, choose simpler route or indeed another day altogether. Temperatures at your intended altitude both the night before and the day of your climb will indicate likely ground conditions you will meet (ice, soft snow etc) and also likely windchill factor. Check when sunset is due and plan to be back well before to give you some lead time. I am also sure both Jim and myself would be happy to respond to direct questions about your intended route and likely weather/snow conditions.
2) Dress accordingly
Take spare clothing, gloves & hat with you. The extra weight will be well worth it when the clouds come in and winds increase. In winter I always pack a down jacket and down gloves even on the best of days. Oh, and yes, take a torch and mobile phone (with fully charged battery + spare if possible)
3) Don't bite off more than you can chew!
I'm all for adventure, but make sure your adventures happen in reasonably controlled situations. In winter above the snow line plan your intended route to be well within your capability and experience. Be prepared to change plan as mountain conditions change! As famous mountaineer, Ed Visteurs once said
"It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory"
4) Make sure there is a backup plan
ie ask yourself a few "What If" questions. Make sure you are always aware of the quick escape route to lower ground and safety. Know the location of refuges/shelters that could be utilised if required.
5) Map & compass?
Plan your route the night before. GPS devices are very useful, but personally I wouldn't trust a smartphone GPS mainly due to limited battery capability in very cold temperatures
6) Take Crampons & Ice Axe
If you are heading above the snow line then you MUST take crampons and ice axe and know how to use them. There are plenty of basic Winter Skills Mountaineering Courses in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere that will give you sufficient training and confidence to take modest steps into the winter mountains. Bear in mind that in deep snow snowshoes maybe the only way to progress
7) Take a Friend
I recommend that you don't go alone unless you have the necessary confidence and experience of high alpine mountains in winter.
8) Inform people of your route
Make sure you tell somebody your intended route and what time you intend to be back. Then make sure you alert those same people when you do get back to your car!
9) Avalanche Risk?
On my intended route will there be an avalanche risk? This is a massive subject but check with the Sierra Nevada ski area http://sierranevada.es/, the Refugio Poqueira http://refugiopoqueira.com/, or ourselves. Feel free to ask questions.
10) Rescue Services 112
Remember that you have to dial 112 to alert the Emergency Services
And finally ...... a couple of extra quotes for your to mull over
"The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too" ..... Hervey Voge
"Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence" ..... Herman Buhl