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Backcountry Awareness: Pre Trip Planning. By Doug Chatten

May 07, 2020

Backcountry Awareness: Pre Trip Planning. By Doug Chatten

Thinking your tour through in its entirety as best you can helps to formulate a realistic & achievable experience. Due consideration will identify weaknesses which can be averted allowing you to maximise your day & increase your safety margin. Contingency plans are a must allowing you to have a Plan B if required & cater for unexpected accidents, illness or mechanical failure.

Doug Chatten

Many considerations are interconnected & will adversely affect one another so a mishap in one area could become a compounding problem.

  • Too arduous a route plan could exhaust lesser experienced group members who are on gear setups that are too heavy for that tour; ROUTE PLAN, GEAR, GROUP

  • A poorly fitting skin could see a group member with less technical experience fall on an icy climb & take a long slip. Without comms they would be unable to raise the alarm….they wished they’d brought that emergency shelter along; GEAR SELECTION, EXPERIENCE, COMMS, EMERGENCY GEAR


Doug Chatten dog boxing in the Australia Snowy Mountains

The following points are not a gear list but some of the considerations when planning for a backcountry mission

  • Realistic route plan to suit the group; how much time is available, is the group up to it

  • Contingency plans; no alternate plan could see you wanting in an uncomfortable situation, set your intentions & preferably only divert to your contingency plans


  • Forecasted weather conditions

  • Skill level, experience & endurance capabilities of your group considering your least experienced members


  • Equipment selection suited to proposed route; heavy-weight rig wouldn’t be suited to a long haul approach, if steep or icy you be needing your crampons


  • Equipment condition; a poorly fitting skin or old glue could see you wasting energy struggling on an icy ascent, do you have a repair kit.

  • Approach conditions & Access; what elevation is the snowline at, does your pack have good ski carry


  • Don’t over-engineer or gear your aspirations too highly. Consider what you want to achieve & be ready to reduce your intentions…..contingency plans! It's ok to turn back!!!

  • Current snowpack conditions; recent instability, cornice formation, wind drifting, icy surface, Snow bridges

  • Trip Intentions; leave detailed info with a responsible person


  • Comms; phone, PLB, spare battery bank, GPS

  • Emergency Gear; you should have enough gear to endure for 24hrs. An insulation jacket, down or synthetic & a lightweight emergency shelter like the Vango Bothy bag & a shovel will serve you well if necessary

backcountry gear

Doug's Mont Moondance 2 Tent setup

It is very important that aspiring backcountry enthusiasts undertake tours that suit their skill level, journeying not far from the trailhead & making a point of debriefing their experience & processing the results. As skills, knowledge & experience develop their safety margin is increased allowing them to undertake more complex tours.

Hurry slowly alpinists... How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

By Mont Ambassador and backcountry guide Doug Chatten of Snowy Mountains Backcountry

Shop Mont's Backcountry range

Doug Chatten, NSW Snowy Mountains

Doug skiing the north face of Mt Twynam


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