6

Low visibility in white-out conditions are a common cause of mountaineering accidents/deaths.

I wonder if there are any gadgets that can boost the visibility in such conditions? Can using a thermal-IR based (presumably the IR signature of the mountain surface/ice is different from the surrounding air) or acoustic based sensor (but still portable and light enough to wear as headgear/goggles).

Might the folks at physics.se or another sister site have any better ideas?

6

While maybe not as "extreme"/"gadgety" of a help as what you are looking for, you'll often see pink lenses marketed for whiteout conditions in snowsports as it helps to increase the contrast.

I've been unable to find a totally definitive answer as to the physics/biology behind why this is the case, but the best I could find is the following two articles from Olympus. This would imply to me that in dimmer light you'd want to increase relative saturation of reds. Depending on the exact formulation of the pink lens it is going to increase the proportion of certain wavelength of reds by decreasing opposing wavelengths.

  1. On human vision

There are shifts in color sensitivity with variations in light levels, so that blue colors look relatively brighter in dim light and red colors look brighter in bright light.

  1. On colored filters

Just follow the arrows from vertex to opposite side or from side to opposite vertex... For example, a green cast is removed by use of a CC magenta filter.

Color compensation triangle

3
  • Yes, this is actually a good idea. I've had tinted goggles sold to me on ski trips. Granted I didn't use them much because I need powered lenses, they did seem very useful in low light. So goggles with interchangeable lenses, one set being pink and the other dark, might be very practical. Assuming one isn't too delirious to swap the lenses.
    – Yogesch
    Aug 25 '21 at 17:03
  • A lens obviously can't increase the amount of red you see, but by decreasing all the non-red, it increases the proportion of red in the light (and your eyes' natural auto-adjustment does the rest). Aug 28 '21 at 12:07
  • yes, I was speaking relatively. It's addition by subtraction :) I'll edit to make this clear
    – noah
    Aug 30 '21 at 1:38
4

Another low-tech solution for dealing with a severe whiteout is to throw something ahead of you that is highly visible. This generally takes the form of a small, brightly colored stuff-sack (filled with snow or similar) attached to the end of ~5--10m of brightly colored cord or thin rope. Throwing the stuff-sack in the direction you wish to head and following cord, reeling it in as you go, can give you something to focus on and help distinguish the ground against blowing snow and fog, along with hopefully giving some indication that you might be approaching the edge of a cornice or open crevasse.

Attaching your end of the cord to a ski/trekking pole can enable a "bull whipping" or "fly casting" type motion to keep advancing your stuff-sack and make the process slightly less tedious.

This is certainly a technique of last resort and only provides help for micro-terrain navigation, but is easily fashioned with things you will always have along in the mountains.

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