Being Prepared for Mountain Winter

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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I have blogged about this before, but it seems each year things are slightly different and we face different challenges in preparation for winter. When you choose to live remotely and at high altitude like we do, being able to anticipate what could likely happen is considered an asset and highly important. All predictions for our specific area this winter is that it is going to be a severe winter. Living where and how we do we do not take those predictions lightly.

Whether you live as we do or not, it is wise to “be prepared.” This prediction could mean many things, but here in the mountains of Southern Colorado, we could be faced with brutally cold temperatures, very large amounts of snow or worst scenario would be both with strong winds added in. The aspen leaves have now fallen off the trees and it is getting colder each night.

When I was a young boy in the Boy Scouts, the motto was “be prepared.” That especially applies to living remotely and at high altitude in the mountains here in Southern Colorado. Not knowing what may happen, we must anticipate those situations where potential problems could arise. With this being our 19th winter here, I consider our worst winter was the year we had numerous heavy snow storms accompanied with strong winds. When we tried to follow the snow plow out to resupply some staples the wind was drifting the snow in right behind the plow and we had to give up our trip and wait until later. Some years, the snowstorms can be from one foot to several feet at a time and leaving just enough time between storms to clear travel paths.

Firewood Sufficient

One of our most important consideration as we prepare for winter is do we have sufficient firewood to see us through the next 7 months. We heat with a wood stove so we usually burn between 9-11 cords of firewood a winter. This year, we have at least 11 cords ready and a hearty reserve supply that is easily accessible.

Not everyone chooses to live as remotely as we do, and some avoid remote living at all costs. Our style of living is not for everyone that is for sure. While we are not totally isolated we do live in semi isolation and nearby amenities are a considerable driving distance.

Woodstove Ready

Our woodstove has been cleaned and is ready to go full time when needed. We use anti-creosote sticks as recommended to avoid having to climb our steep roof in the winter when the wind is gusty and the roof is slippery with snow. We choose to burn aspen as it burns cleaner than conifers and hot enough to keep us warm. We also keep a small supply of woodstove maintenance items on hand if suddenly needed.

Regardless of how early we start getting ready for our long winters, it seems that we never start early enough. Of course, this year I did go fishing a few times for cold-water native trout readily caught in our mountain streams/creeks. I also went prospecting for gold two times and, as usual, found a little of that elusive mineral. Now we are cramming all the last-minute tasks into a short space in time.

Ready, Set, Go

Getting Pets Ready. We have had our four dogs checked and necessary treatments and vaccinations performed. It helps to be proactive when it comes to health issues as sometimes we can be snowed in for a few days or roads can drift closed to where we can’t get out. It also helps to know canine first aid in case of accidents or illness and we make sure to check our canine first aid supplies.

Medical Ready. Then comes our medical and dental checkups for the very same reason we have the dogs checked. When you live remotely and it is not safe to venture to town it is best to have any medical  or dental issues current. This year we found our medical provider had left the practice and we were required to find a new provider. With limited medical personnel available it took several weeks to find a suitable replacement and get needed vaccinations and Rx supplies on hand. Winter can be hard on our bodies with all the snow that requires shoveling and constantly bringing in firewood to feed to our wood stove. Being proactive on both our care and that of our canine family is essential. While we usually can get out in the winter if we have to seek care for us or our dogs the weather may keep us from getting back home again due to drifting snow and icy conditions. The more we can reduce that potential risk the better.

Vehicles Ready. Then comes our vehicles and tractor. Most important is that they are serviced and able to handle any sudden dips in the temperature. Our truck battery was weak so it was replaced with one that has a higher rated cold amp cranking power. The other battery was original equipment in our jeep so a similar battery was purchased for it when it decides to no longer start our vehicle. It is very old now and may not work much longer. Having oil changed and service done now is better than crawling under a vehicle when the ground is frozen and the wind gusts blows snow down my neck. Our tractor is new with only a few hours on it so we make sure everything is lubricated, filters and oil  are changed and the block heater is working.

While all the above is vitally important for our safety and survival, it seems there are dozens of other lesser but equally important matters to also attend to. Making sure everything is put away, items with water or fluids are protected from freezing, no ground obstacles to hit with the snow thrower which could potentially damage it, and equipment that will be used to move snow is fully ready to go are just a few considerations.

While the past few winters have been fairly mild, we cannot expect future winters to be the same. We therefore do all we can to ‘be prepared’ and will deal with the unexpected if/when it occurs.  I hope our several years of preparation experience will benefit those who live similarly and will provide entertaining reading for those who live in less demanding areas. Being prepared is essential for our continued survival so we do all we can ahead of the snow season.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyles go to McElmurray’s Mountain Retreat. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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