Preparing For The Unexpected

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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We often run up against unforeseen complications here in the mountains and flexibility is essential to deal with what may come our way.  One of the given circumstances at 9,750′ elevation is that we experience high winds occasionally.  The past two days have been high wind days.  We had winds that were hurricane strength or stronger. Fortunately we were on the lee side of the mountain from the strongest wind, but never the less, the swirling and change of direction gave us some anxious moments.  The roar of the wind that was mostly over our home made it difficult to hear anything outside.  The clouds were zooming by at a very fast rate.  

One of the consequences of those periods of high winds is that frequently our electricity goes out.  That is one drawback of being part of the grid system; when power goes out you need to wait for the line crew to find the source and repair it.  In our mountain range I wouldn’t have their job for anything.  The power is usually out somewhere on a mountain top and having to transverse deep drifted snow to get to the source can be difficult for them.  In conversations with the lineman previously, I certainly have tremendous empathy for them in finding and repairing lines in hurricane force winds and snow deep enough to bury snowmobiles. 

When the electricity goes down we are sometimes quickly forced to improvise.  The photo reveals one of the ways we have to make provision.  Our freezer will keep frozen food cold for a few days if we do not open the door/lid.  The refrigerator is a different situation.  After a few hours food will start to get warmer and we run the risk of spoilage.  The photo shows how we empty the refrigerator and bury the coolers in the snow and pack the inside with snow.  That will generally hold our food for a few days if needed.  If the power goes off for longer than a few hours that is a safe precaution to take.  

City dwellers usually still have water and sewer when the power goes out.  We do not have water or the ability to use a flush toilet.  Our well is run by electricity, and once the water is used up in the pressure tank we are out of water.  We recycle empty milk jugs by filling them with drinking water and store them under our house.  We try to keep 40-50 gallons on hand for emergencies.  We are able to cook meals since our stove is propane.  Since we heat with a woodstove, keeping the livable portion of the house warm is no problem.   Our small basement is heated with an electric heater so we need to be extremely careful our water pipes don’t freeze under the house.  We use a Mr. Heater if the temperature starts to drop to close to freezing.  

We maintain a land line and small cheap telephone for emergency communication since our other electronic phones or cell phones  will not work to report the outage. Cell phone coverage is pretty spotty in the mountains.   Of course we have no television or internet service.  If it happens to be in a blizzard, we need electricity to plug in the block heater in order to start the tractor with the snow thrower.  We keep plenty of reading material, candles and oil lights on hand for evening hours, as it gets dark early when the sun sets on the other side of the mountain.  We sold our generator several years ago since we really didn’t use it enough to justify keeping it.  The longest our electricity has gone out in the 14 years we have lived here has been 5 days.  Normally it is only a day or a few hours so we only have to switch to survival mode for a short duration.  

There is no chance of getting out anyway when we have high winds if it is winter time – like now- because our road will drift in within minutes.  If it is a genuine emergency the first responders will get to us.  So other than a minor inconvenience we just hunker down into survival mode and wait it out.  The time we were without electricity for 5 days, we had gotten four feet of snow and the line crew had to borrow a snow cat to get to the downed power line.  So when homesteading remotely and at high elevation you need to sometimes be patient and  always prepared for adverse conditions.  Plan ahead, have supplies on hand, and it should only be a minor inconvenience and you will be just fine.   Not being prepared is a very poor option so keep sufficient food, water and equipment on hand to handle emergencies.  Also, having a proper attitude helps.  Like the Boy Scout motto, “be prepared.”  For more on mountain living go to our personal blog at 

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