Monthly Archives: November 2012

Tree-Pit Survival Shelters

This week, I wrote an article for the About.com Survival Skills website titled “How to Build a Tree-Pit Survival Shelter,” which offers some step-by-step information about what to do when you you might unexpectedly need to build a shelter from natural materials. When might you find yourself in this situation? Let’s say you’re out skiing by yourself…

backcountry skiing

…and you didn’t plan on camping out overnight, but maybe you underestimated the avalanche conditions, and you get caught in an avalanche. You make it through, but you’re injured, and you can’t get to safety. If you can at least build a shelter to help you keep warm until you can muster the strength to crawl your way out of the backcountry…or until rescue crews can reach you, then you may be in luck.

winter snowshoeing

Another situation when you might need to build a tree-pit shelter? Let’s say you’re out snowshoeing by yourself on a day hike, and you get injured. You’re unable to get yourself home before dark, and the weather has taken a turn for the worse. It’s a blizzard, and you’re starting to get very, very cold. Look for a tree well, and start building your tree-pit shelter.

If you don’t know what a good tree well looks like, this YouTube video points out a few good ones:

Now that you know where to start, read the rest of my article on the About.com Survival Skills site for the next steps:
“How to Build a Tree-Pit Survival Shelter”
You’ve been out snowshoeing all day, and now it’s getting dark. You’re lost in deep snow in an evergreen forest. You have no tent, and a storm begins to blow in. What do you do?…click here to continue reading

Snow Blindness: Prevention

Snow blindness, a painful eye condition caused by inflammation of the cornea, can be prevented easily with appropriate eye protection. I just wrote an article for the About.com Survival Skills website titled “Snow Blindness: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment,” but I wanted to show a few more photographs here of eye protection that can help prevent snow blindness, beginning with good full-coverage sunglasses:

I was wearing the above sunglasses while low-flying over France with my friend Alex Brown in his 1968 Piper Cherokee. It was super sunny, and I needed to wear wrap-style, polarized sunglasses, which are the type of sunglasses you’d also want to wear in snowy conditions to prevent light from entering the sides of your eyes. Oftentimes, however, more than mere sunglasses will be needed to prevent snow blindness. I’d suggest choosing glacier goggles instead:

Glacier goggles often have polarized, mirrored lenses, and they already have attachments on the sides to prevent sun from entering. I often choose glacier glasses over sunglasses when traveling over glaciers (of course…) or even when skiing or hiking in calm, sunny conditions.

But if I know it will be windy, I go for traditional ski goggles instead, even if I’m hiking instead of skiing:

The above goggles offer good protection from the wind, but I’d still choose darker lenses for brighter conditions. On super sunny skiing or hiking days, especially if I know I will be in glaciated terrain, I choose a mirrored lens instead:

Yes…I’m smiling in the above photo, not only because I have happy eyes but because I’m happy to be skiing in one of my favorite places in the world: Chamonix, France.

What to know more about preventing snow blindness?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Snow Blindness: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment”
Snow blindness, or photokeratitis, is a painful eye condition caused by too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Those most at risk for snow blindness are those traveling outside in snowy terrain, across a snowfield or in a high-altitude winter environment, without proper eye protection. Prevent snow blindness by choosing sunglasses, glacier goggles, or snow goggles that effectively block out the sun’s UV rays from all angles…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Make Your Own Snow Goggles

I just returned from a Thanksgiving hut trip to the Sangree M. Froelicher hut, one of Colorado’s famed 10th Mountain Division mountain huts. Although there’s not yet enough snow for skiing, our group of 16 people hiked in, and then we hiked and hiked and hiked (between massive Thanksgiving meals). I know they sort of look dorky, but I chose to wear my big fat Julbo glacier goggles:

Whenever I’m out in snowy terrain, I like to have full eye coverage, and these things do a good job keeping reflected light out. I never get the grainy, sand-in-your-eyes feel of snow blindness with these goggles.

I recently wrote an article on the About.com Survival Skills site titled “Survive Snow Blindness: Make Your Own Goggles.” Although it’s probably not possible to make something as functional as my favorite pair of Julbo goggles, it is totally possible to make snow goggles out of duct tape, bark, and other natural materials.

Really? You might ask. Really. Here’s a fantastic video about how to make emergency snow goggles from bark…

…and click below to read more about how to make your own using other methods.

Want to give it a try? Here’s how:
“Survive Snow Blindness: Make Your Own Goggles”
While the winter season can be a beautiful time for outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, and hiking, it can also pose a number of challenges. It’s important to keep your eyes protected in snowy conditions because snow and ice readily reflect the sun’s rays and can cause a condition known as photokeratitis, or snow blindness…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Cold-Weather Clothing

The snow is finally sticking here in Vail, Colorado, which has me dreaming up all sorts of cold-weather adventures. I broke into my winter gear bins last week to get what I needed for a hike up Arrowhead with a few friends. Even though the snow wasn’t deep enough for snowshoes or skis, we all wore gaiters over proper mountaineering-style hiking boots to keep the snow from getting into our shoes. The wind picked up as we hiked across the final ridge, and it was so cold on top that no one wanted to stop for more than a few sips of hot cocoa.

The cold mountain weather makes me feel alive, but if I’m not dressed properly for the conditions…I know that the same weather can become unbearable. Over the years, I’ve found that a few different layering systems work, depending on the activity. For non-alpine style ice climbing, I know I’ll be hanging around, so I take as many insulation layers as possible. My sister, above right, is wearing pretty much what I’d wear ice climbing while belaying or waiting around. It’s easy to strip off outer layers to climb. But if I were doing something more vigorously aerobic, such as climbing a mountain to ski off of it…so much insulation won’t work. I’d go for something like this:


When I know that I’ll be sweating a lot, I usually wear a wool or polypropylene underlayer and a good shell jacket that can protect me against the wind, rain, or snow. At the top of a climb, I usually strip off my sweaty underlayer and put on a dry layer as long as the weather isn’t too foul to change. I’ll put on an insulation layer, such as a light down sweater or jacket, over that dry underlayer, and I’ll put my shell back on top for the ski down.

In extremely cold environments, such as Antarctica, a massive insulation layer has its pros and cons.

Above is a photograph of United States Antarctic Program workers waiting on the ice shelf for a departure plane. We’re all wearing issued clothing, which is mandatory for the flight, but the clothing can also be useful for other recreation and day-to-day activities:


When it’s really cold and I know that I won’t overheat, I wear my Big Red parka for long hikes. It’s super bulky, and I was even cold on this early-summer-season hike. Notice the boots…they’re pretty burly themselves. These boots are called FDX boots, and you can add extra felt insulation to the foot beds to increase their warmth. Just don’t try running in this outfit!

At the end of the day, this type of cold-weather clothing is probably best…

…however, mountain goats are way more adapted to the cold mountain climates than humans. Without the necessary physical adaptations…such as a big furry coat…humans will have to choose their winter clothing and outdoor activities carefully.

Want to know more about survival skills and cold-weather clothing?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Cold-Weather Survival: Clothing”
Choose clothing carefully when you know that you will be outside in the cold weather. In order to survive cold temperatures, the body needs to retain its vital heat, and choosing proper clothing will also help you avoid cold-weather injuries such as hypothermia and frostbite…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Survival Stressors and Extreme Cold

It’s possible to have a great deal of fun, even in brutally cold climates. A changing or extreme environment can become a survival stressor when it creates a difficult situation, but if you’re prepared and able to protect yourself, it’s possible to survive–and actually enjoy–a harsh climate. Take Antarctica, for instance. It’s a place of extreme beauty, and it’s also the highest, windiest, coldest, and driest place on the planet. But that doesn’t stop those who live and work there from getting outdoors. I’ve spent 25 months of my life living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica and I don’t know what I would have done without the many opportunities we had to get out and enjoy our surroundings.

A late-summer-season Castle Rock climb, pictured above at right, would normally have been cold, but with the additional environmental stressor of the wind, it became pretty uncomfortable. But…I traveled with a partner, and we both carried proper food and clothing with us so that when the wind kicked up, we were able to put on our goggles, wind layers, and neck-gaiters to protect our faces:

All U.S. Antarctic Program workers get issued a humongous down parka that we affectionately call “Big Red.” It’s difficult to Nordic ski in Big Red because it’s just too hot, but Big Red is totally necessary for outdoor work and early-season hikes, especially when it’s windy and cold outside:

Finally, survival shelters and warming huts are helpful in the McMurdo area because many people like to get outside, and even those most accustomed to being out in the extreme cold like to warm up sometimes…especially when it’s windy and snowing sideways!

Want to know more about the most common survival stressors?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Overcome Common Survival Stessors”
Stress is a common physical and mental reaction to troublesome situations. So if you’re stuck in a survival situation, don’t be surprised when you feel your heart beating quickly or when you find that your emotions are difficult to control…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.