Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Planning is simply the act of preserving the amount you have left in your ‘luck-glass’ for when you really need it!
Luck. We are all born with a full glass. Over time we gulp away at it to a point it is empty. It never fills up! How we preserve a gulp or two for when we really need it depends on many things, for me its about planning and thus calculating if and when I may need to take a gulp. Hopefully, with good planning, I don’t need to use much luck and just have a dam good time. It’s a bad day (on reflection) if I’m sat at the bar at the end of the day saying how lucky I was to have got away with that. And I’m not talking about the weather!
Anyway. Towards the end of the summer I had a discussion with a friend about planning - nav, apps, maps etc - and when the weather turns on you… “oh I don’t need to know about navigation, old paper maps and stuff. Everything around here [in the Chamonix Valley area] is signposted. If I can’t find the next sign-post I have a smartphone that will show me the way…”. Take from that what you will and yes your phone could well show you the way, except when you realise how quickly the battery can die in the hills, you drop it on a rock or down the side of the arête your wobbling along for that matter… ask yourself how does that fit with your luck glass?
As mountain users, it is a good thing to be obsessed with the weather and planning but not necessarily limited by it! Use the information you have appropriately and make your choices wisely. I use a lot of weather-specific apps, mapping tools and other online sources. I delve into many of them depending on what I’m doing. I keep weather records, routes and route observations as a matter of course. I know some who take a weekly screenshot of different material, spreadsheets of an enormous amount of data and so on. It all becomes very useful when putting together a picture of what’s going on, particularly in winter when trying to figure out the snowpack, and what is generally going on in parts of the mountains we cannot see from our sofa.
So what about the device we mostly use to access all this stuff - our smartphone. What a brilliantly intrusive yet useful bit of kit…when we’re not getting pee’d off with it because the battery is almost dead, there is no signal or our thumb cannot unlock it because it decided that it’s not really ‘you’. Oh and when that does happen how on earth do you get to the screen to tap in your code…if you remember it because it's so long since you used it or you have so many codes in your head…eerrr is it the same as that debit card number, my bike lock, keycode entry for my front door?
Hummm, as a side note my daughter has discovered you can use a grape! Not, obviously, for the fingerprint thing but to use to navigate the screen and select apps…just saying!
Anyway, let us presume you’ve cracked it, that’s unlocking it and not the screen due to frustration, and its all working beautifully. Which app to use? How best to use the device so I can use it when I need it? How long am I going to be out and likely to use the device? Blimey, this kinda sounds like planning, by now the battery is on 7%.
Basically, your device will probably be good for non-stop navigation for a few hours or less if it's in a warmish, calm, clear, dry environment and you’re not receiving incoming ‘chatter’, updating or sending videos to your mates of the monumentally dramatic situation you’ve stumbled into.
The nitty gritty…
Here are a few tips on how and what to use your smartphone for. Remember they are fragile bits of kit.
Decide what you’re going to use it for BEFORE you set off. I’d suggest just for emergencies and occasionally checking your location but both have problems. Network connectivity for emergencies and available satellites for GPS! The latter is not so bad as it doesn’t rely on the mobile networks and the GPS works in AirPlane mode (double-check this please). If you’re going to use it for location there are a number of things to consider. GPS accuracy can vary. You need a minimum of 4 satellites to have a reasonably accurate position. In a steep valley, you may have issues. Also, if you haven’t used the GPS for a while, as little as 10 hrs, it will need to update which will take a few minutes. Assuming all is good it should give you a position within a few seconds, then turn it off / into standby again and refer to your hard-copy map and compass.
Conserve your battery at all times by putting it into airplane mode or turn it off. Most of the batteries are very susceptible to the cold and can go from 100% to off in minutes when exposed to the wind and cold. Keep it under your jacket close to your base layer however, there is another issue here. It can get covered in sweat! Whether its sweat, melting snow or rain smartphones don’t like it. It also make using the touch screen almost impossible! Maybe the grape would work? Just a thought. There are some good covers such as OtterBox and LifeVenture make touch-screen compatible plastic bags.
Multi-day trips. Ensure everyone has the same app and stagger the use of the devices over the days of the trip. Now, I’m not sure I’d go for this one as I’m sure as dam it that the temptation to just quickly check FB, mail etc while tucked up in your sleeping bag would be too great for some. Alternatively carry a small solar charger. Most of them work like a back-up battery so strap it to the top of your pack during the day to charge the solar-powered battery then at night plug in your device. I use this for phone, camera and stand-alone GPS device.
Avalanches! Nope it won't save your life. It can however affect your avalanche transceiver, as will smart-watches etc, particularly when the transceiver is in ‘search-mode’. A couple of rules of thumb while the academics figure out some rigorous research:
Keep your avi transceiver and phone around 40cm or more away from each other.
Make sure your phone is in Airplane mode or ideally off.
If you have to perform a rescue leave all phones away from the search area if possible, certainly make sure they are off, once you have tried to call for help. This goes with all electronic devices as when in ‘search’ mode the electro-magnetic field thingy can give you dodgy signals of where and how many victims there are! Be aware of metal too, even your shovel!
Now you’ve figured all this out here are a load of links and apps I use to differing degrees that help me not to take too many gulps out of my luck-glass.
Also see our other blog posts about weather and avalanche bulletins on our website. We will also be putting planning templates and tools on the website soon.
Planning, links and Apps
Be cautious with many of the forums until you get to know and verify how your view of a route and conditions correlate to other users. Opinion of good / bad / ugly vary enormously. On some posts there are photos which are really useful except a photo is often of the really cool fun bit not the nasty, get me out of here bit!
Metaskirando http://s710150168.onlinehome.fr/ is a search engine which includes (Gulliver, Camp2Camp, Skitour, Volo).
IphiGeNie http://xn--iphignie-f1a.com/ is available on both iPhone & Android. Lots of tools and uses the actual national maps, not just digital maps. Gradient overlay is very visual and it uses the national maps. When download maps (you have to pay) you also have to zoom in and out so it is the cache on your device. Highlight area and download all options of scale. You can also mark up your route, this is really easy to do and save.
Outdooractive. https://www.outdooractive.com/en/tourplanner/ Digital maps all over the alps. The Ortovox app uses this data.
AlpineQuest https://www.alpinequest.net/ only on Android all the European maps (except France apparently!) and excellent GPS.
PeakFinder https://www.peakfinder.org What it says on the tin. Usable offline.
In the App Store:
Mammut Safety App
Alpine Tours (Ortovox)
White Risk (SLF)
There are loads more. Take your pick, get familiar with them and get geeky about your planning! See you on the hill.