Debbie Croft: Trips in the cold require safety checks

January 18, 2013 


It's tempting this time of year with a day off from school or work, a recent snowfall in the higher altitudes and and the lure of some alone-time with nature.

You pack a few things, toss them in the vehicle and take off for a day in the Sierra Nevada's winter wonderland. In no time at all it'll be just you beneath an endless sky of blue, doing some backroad driving, hiking, maybe photographing or cross-country skiing.

But, did you tell someone where you're going? Did you bring extra food, water, blankets, a flashlight or a reliable map?

Debbie Cook, public information officer with the Mariposa County Fire Department, cautions everyone considering a trip to the great outdoors this winter to be prepared for the unexpected.

A vehicle can get stuck in mud and ice. Your cell phone may lose service and be worthless. Dehydration could cause fatigue and loss of mental alertness.

The following tips for winter driving safety are provided by the Mariposa County Fire Department and AAA:

Before leaving on long-distance trips, or before driving in isolated areas, check weather forecasts. Delay trips if possible when a winter storm is expected. If the trip cannot be postponed, advise others of your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.

Have your vehicle's engine checked and tuned up if necessary.

Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, including the garage.

Carry a can of lock de-icer. Pouring hot water on frozen car door locks can cause problems.

Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and ice to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning to those inside the vehicle.

Keep several bottles of water inside the vehicle (not the trunk, where they could freeze).

Don't use cruise control when driving on slippery surfaces (water, ice, sand).

Avoid using the parking brake in cold, rainy or snowy weather.

Keep tires properly inflated, and keep the gas tank at least half full (to avoid running out and the gas line freezing).

Carry jumper cables and tire chains.

Always use seat belts.

Remain alert and minimize distractions when driving in hazardous weather conditions.

If you become snowbound, stay inside your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for others to locate you.

If stranded, turn the engine and heater on only long enough to take off the chill.

Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place at the top of a rolled-up window to signal distress.

Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold, including newspapers or floor mats.

Purchase or assemble your own travel safety kit for the car. It should include an ice scraper and brush, tow rope, knife, camping shovel, flares, flashlight and extra batteries, nutritious nonperishable food, drinking water, toilet tissue, candle and matches, extra blankets and warm clothing, portable radio, a good book, first aid kit, and a bag of cat litter (for use as a traction aid).

The National Park Service says Yosemite has experienced a spectacular winter so far. Waterfalls are flowing, and the valley floor is covered with snow.

On Monday, entrance to Yosemite is free in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The park service advises that chain restrictions could apply to roadways in the park. Call (209) 372-0200 for updated weather and road information.

Besides snowboarding, skiing and tubing at Badger Pass, visitors enjoy ice skating at Curry Village. Breathtaking scenery brings hikers to spots like Dewey Point, reaching more than 7,000 feet above sea level, and providing an unparalleled view of the park.

Bus tours are available, rangers lead nature walks and talks, and moonlight snowshoe excursions are scheduled for the more adventurous.

Watch the frozen falls break, crashing to the ground as the morning sun's warmth melts the ice. Or, gather around the fireplace in Ahwahnee's Great Lounge to hear a delightful story on a winter's eve.

For more information about Yosemite's winter activities, go to

Oh, and one last tip: Don't step on your own snowshoes. You just might land on your face.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at

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