The hazards of backcountry travel

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board February 21, 2014 08:50 am

When it comes to assessing the danger of winter travel in the Wallowa Mountains, we defer to experts such as Dave Clemens.

Clemens, who lives in Richland, has crossed the Wallowas on skis seven times during winter.

He understands avalanches.

Clemens told us this week that when he heard on Feb. 11 that an avalanche had  killed two backcountry skiers near Cornucopia, he was of course saddened.

But unlike most people, Clemens had skied the same terrain.

Clemens emphasized that no matter how much experience and knowledge a backcountry traveler has — and he has prodigious amounts of both — there is an inherent risk in skiing, or snowmobiling, through the Wallowas.

Yet Clemens also noted that knowledge and experience can, to the extent possible, reduce that risk.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help travelers, even those who lack Clemens’ experience, increase their knowledge.

The Wallowa Avalanche Center in Joseph is the most important such source. This nonprofit group doesn’t make avalanche forecasts, but it does issue a weekly bulletin about local conditions, and it offers annual avalanche training.

We encourage all backcountry visitors to avail themselves of these services. Knowledge can not only save your life, but it help avoid the need for rescuers and others risking their own lives on your behalf.