July 23rd, 2024

Alpine Club encourages exploration of back country


By Greg Bobinec on January 30, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDgbobinec@lethbridgeherald.com

Since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, people have been encouraged to spend time outdoors where they can socially distance safely.
With the pandemic continuing on into 2021, people are finding themselves looking for more areas to explore, drawing more attraction to the backcountry. With many activities from cross-country skiing to rock and ice climbing, backcountry and outdoors groups are encouraging people to join groups or take training courses to stay safe while exploring.
“Alpine Club of Canada is an outdoors group that started about six years about by some local climbers that had been climbing in the area for the last couple decades,” says Stew Moss, Chair of Southern Alberta Section, Alpine Club of Canada.
“It’s a broad group that covers all of southern Alberta from the Crowsnest Pass, Waterton, and we just get out in the back country, have social events and try and mentor new outdoors people. We try and hold certain types of clinics or courses periodically throughout the year, ranging from avalanche courses, crevasse rescue, to basic rock climbing outside and gear introductory, and ice climbing.”
With slightly eased restrictions on outdoor gatherings, families and friends are spending more time in the backcountry, but moss says even with easier activities, people should seek out training in bear, avalanche and other hazard training.
“There is an increased number of people in the backcountry since COVID-19 started, and that is nice to see,” says Moss.
“Since Waterton has opened up, there is more backcountry travel people want to get out, bicycles and cross-country skis are really popular this year, but those activities are safer because they don’t typically bring you into hazards such as avalanche area or rock fall terrain, but it’s definitely stressed that people have the proper knowledge base to draw on when they go out and lead these or participate in these trips.”
Backcountry explores face a number of different challenges from unstable pathways, soft snowpack, and possible injuries, to animal encounters, quick changing weather and how much daylight they have to get to and from their destination.
“There are quite a few dangers, the mountains are inherently dangerous and things are always changing, you just need to be aware of,” says Moss. “It is very specific to each separate practice, for instance if you are back-country skiing you need to be aware of the snow pack and aware of what you are skiing on, if you are ice climbing might be being aware of your overhead hazards that can also include the snow pack if you are above or below, there is really a large dynamic group of different aspects to each of these practices. You need to talk to people who know what they are looking at and have been there before.”
Moss says mentorship is the best way for people wanting to explore the backcountry to gain the experience and knowledge they need to remain safe.
“Taking guided training courses from either our club, or others like ours in different areas, do courses like avalanche safety training, crevasse training courses, there is no shortage of recourses for people to seek out,” says Moss.
“I think that mentorship is a very good tool, you can’t learn everything by yourself and especially for some of these hazards you can’t assess on the fly and you can’t always learn them as you are doing it, but if you have a mentor it’s a good resource during that time.”
The southern Alberta sector of the Alpine club meets up a few times a month for guided group climbs and hikes, and not only do people get to learn from others who have explored the area for years through these trips, you can also receive training and are able to find lightly-used equipment through other members for beginners looking to build their equipment.
“We have a trip calendar on our website where we do scheduled trips a few times a month to get out in the backcountry for skiing, rock climbing, and ice climbing,” says Moss.
“Joining a club is also beneficial to obtain gear because people are always upgrading and getting rid of their gear, so besides spending money on brand-new if you are just trying it out, members usually have something you can use.”
Before exploring the backcountry, Alberta Parks encourages people to look into the weather forecast before setting off, along with being prepared with equipment, food and water. For more information on the Alpine Club, visit southernalbertaalpineclub.ca.

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