Find Shelter While Mountaineering

Find Shelter While Mountaineering
Whether you are trying to escape a storm or just looking for a place to sleep after a day full of hiking, exploring or scaling a mountain, finding shelter needs to be your first priority. Be resourceful and use what you have along with what Mother Nature offers to find and make a reliable shelter.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Choose a location that naturally provides shelter. Find a place out of the wind or at least have the wind at your back. Look for a space that is large enough for you to sleep in and that protects you from the elements and hungry animals. Check the area for poisonous plants, snakes, insects, scorpions and stinging ants. The last thing you want is to wake up covered in poison ivy or bug bites.
Step 2
Stay away from danger zones. Steer clear of flash flood areas, dry river beds, rockslide areas, cliffs, ravines and low ground. Low areas not only harbor swamps, but are colder at night than higher locations. If a storm picks up while you are sleeping, you may find yourself in the middle of a raging river in no time.
Step 3
Look for a tree with a large diameter to protect you from the wind and set up camp downwind. The more dense the branches above your head, the more protection they give you from the rain.
Step 4
Find a cave. These are often you best option but never seem to be around when you need one. Remember that if you find a great shelter, other animals have probably found it too. Stay within a reasonable distance of the entrance to the cave in case its residents or possible structural collapse, force you to make a run for it.
Step 5
Make some shade with whatever fabric you have. This is especially important in dry, hot climates. Use a big rock or pile a mound of sand on either end of your space. Anchor your poncho to the rocks or mounds with a heavy object. This shelter might not weather a storm, but it gives you a rest from the sun.
Step 6
Use surrounding debris to make a hut. When hiking, find a tree stump, large rock or sturdy tree. Anchor the end of a long tree branch or pole on the stump to make a tripod. This is the base of the hut. Ideally the length of the pole is close to your height. Set large branches up against the pole so they make a tent-like shape. Check that you fit inside the space you create. Place smaller branches and brush across the hut. Lay debris such as pine needles, weeds or leaves over the smaller branches until it is one inch thick. To top it off, place some branches on top of the debris to keep it in place.
Step 7
Dig your way into the snow or ground to create a shelter. The firmer the ground, the more stable your refuge. Trace a rectangle in the ground or snow that fits your size. If the hole is too big, you loose the warming effect of body heat. Dig down about four feet deep. Cover the hole with branches, a tarp, scrap metal or whatever you find nearby that works. Create a breathing hole in the roof before settling in.

Tips & Warnings

When packing gear for mountaineering, include a poncho or tarp, rope or fly sheet. These supplies are compact and make a shelter more comfortable. Be aware of your surroundings while hiking or climbing. If you see a decent place for shelter, mark it on your map or note details in terrain. This helps you find the location later on if need be. If you spot lightning or hear thunder, find shelter as soon as possible. Use the 30/30 rule to determine how close the lightning is. Watch for a flash of lightning. Begin counting after it flashes and stop when you hear thunder. If you count less than 30 seconds, find shelter immediately. Stay out of the storm for 30 minutes after the thunder stops rolling. Attach rope to a tarp or sheet without damaging the fabric by placing a smooth rock or smooth heavy object on the tarp. Wrap the rock in the tarp. Tie the rope around and underneath the wrapped object. Once secure, the rock acts as an anchor for the tarp.
Do not camp against the base of a tree, at the bottom of a rock face or on bare ridge tops. If lightning hits the tree or rock and you are leaning up against them, you are toast. Always leave a bright object near the entrance to your shelter. If people are looking for you this helps them find you.

Article Written By Lisa McKeown

Lisa McKeown grew up riding and exploring the snow and sun of the Rocky Mountains. She has taken her love of the outdoors from the Alps to the Olympic Mountains and continues to share what she learns from her adventures in her writing.

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