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Tom MacD

Long snowy approaches - equipment recs???

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Posted (edited)

I'm itching to do more mountaineering/alpine climbing that would involve long approaches in snow with serious altitude gain involved - basically getting in early to beat the crowds (but not too early/winter).  In the Cascades, I'm thinking of things like getting to Ingalls & Stuart or maybe Colchuck in late April or early May (depending on conditions of course) for solitude and to beat the crowds.  Other ideas range from Chair Peak to Baker's N Face (wide range, I know...).  I hate snowshoes because I find them slow, cumbersome, and maybe it's just that I believe that there have to be much better gear options out there.  But I don't really want to fork over $2k for new AT boots and bindings and skis, nor do I want to climb in AT boots.  What would be ideal in my crazy head is being able to use my Sportiva Nepal GTX Cubes on something efficient and light both up and down.  And my goal is not to get in the best back country ski or snowboard run in but rather just to make the approach and return much more manageable for remote snowy mountain climbing adventures.  The BD GlideLite 147 set-up seems the best option, and by best I don't mean to say "great" (the big weakness being that the binding doesn't allow a non-flexible boot and also has no heel elevator, so it seems more "trail" worthy than "mountain" worthy).  Is there any miracle gear out there I just don't know about? What set ups do you all use?  

Edited by Tom MacD

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There is no secret miracle gear for the shoulder seasons.

Most (including me) use skis until it isn't fun, and then at some point in the year transition to doing trips with just boots (I typically leave the skis at home after early/mid June or so).  Modern AT boots climb just fine, at least if you aren't talking a lot of fifth class. 

It seems, at least to me, that the rock routes are typically in poor condition that time of year anyways. 

You can find a lot of good options in used AT gear, esp if you aren't super picky.

 

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7 minutes ago, JasonG said:

It seems, at least to me, that the rock routes are typically in poor condition that time of year anyways. 

 

Thanks Jason.  That leads to another Q:  Take Sahale, for example - if you went in mid May, I assume you'd ski in as far as you could, but would you take your mountaineering boots too for the summit or do them in your AT ski boots? 

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1 minute ago, Tom MacD said:

if you went in mid May, I assume you'd ski in as far as you could, but would you take your mountaineering boots too for the summit or do them in your AT ski boots? 

Sahale is a great example of a good ski mountaineering peak in the spring.  Just a short bit of snowed up 4th class that is easy to climb in AT boots.  No need to haul your boots all the way in!  There is a recent TR using this exact approach

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Posted (edited)

Thanks Jason!  I have many questions because this snowy climbing idea is relatively new to me, despite years of rock climbing and doing many Mexican volcanos - I live in central Mexico.  Curiously, Becky's books and the Nelson/Potterfield books give grades to the approaches but never really list gear needed on approaches (nor give suggestions).  Skis seem the way to go for early season approaches (no surprise there) but my confusion still lingers as to say a route like Colchuck's N Buttress Couloir or Triple Couloirs - would you climb those routes in AT ski boots?  I'm guessing so, but what if instead you got onto some long rock arete climbing?  Would that change your choice?

 

Edited by Tom MacD

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I have had good luck with my mountaineering boots on a splitboard.  If you get a small enough binding a La Sportiva Nepal works very well (definitely put in a dozen or more trips with that setup).  I even used La Sportiva Spantiks with my splitboard up on Denali.  I wouldn't want to ride those in the resort but as you stated you aren't looking for beautiful backcountry riding just efficient snow travel.

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8 hours ago, Tom MacD said:

.  Skis seem the way to go for early season approaches (no surprise there) but my confusion still lingers as to say a route like Colchuck's N Buttress Couloir or Triple Couloirs - would you climb those routes in AT ski boots?  I'm guessing so, but what if instead you got onto some long rock arete climbing?  Would that change your choice?


why bring anything at all?  most times you can just do them by walking in.  the two routes listed has a standard bootpack going in to lake which is a pain to ski anyway, often in in late winter.  I have seen alot of people packing skiis up to the lake.  so for colchuck and dragontail, you would have 30 minutes of useful snow slide time before getting on route.  The reality is that the snow is so deep that you need floatation, you really need to reconsider the route choice due to avi concerns.

chair and baker often have bootpacks approaches also. 

Being able to walk on the approach without flotation is a good sign that the actual climbing route is in good condition.  Things usually get more difficult the higher you go.  If you are wallowing down low, expect more wallowing up high.  steep wallowing is a good way to die.

 

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7 hours ago, mthorman said:

I have had good luck with my mountaineering boots on a splitboard.  If you get a small enough binding a La Sportiva Nepal works very well (definitely put in a dozen or more trips with that setup).  I even used La Sportiva Spantiks with my splitboard up on Denali.  I wouldn't want to ride those in the resort but as you stated you aren't looking for beautiful backcountry riding just efficient snow travel.

the few times I used leather climbing boots for splitboarding,  I got pretty annoying pain on the calf muscle.  the highbakcs are higher that the boot and would dig in on heal side turns.   Did you find a really low highback (a lowback?)  to not have this problem?  I didn't know that they could be found that low.  I shoved a small patch of foam from a ground pad back there but did not really that great. 

 

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3 hours ago, genepires said:

why bring anything at all?

Gene brings up a very good point.  I typically try and tailor my objectives to conditions, including approach conditions.   When things are snowy and soft,  I stick to lower angled objectives easily done on skis.  When conditions firm up you can usually ditch flotation and just walk, greatly simplifying everything.

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11 hours ago, Tom MacD said:

my confusion still lingers as to say a route like Colchuck's N Buttress Couloir or Triple Couloirs - would you climb those routes in AT ski boots?  I'm guessing so, but what if instead you got onto some long rock arete climbing?  Would that change your choice?

NBC or 3Cs could easily be climbed in AT boots, though typically ski conditions are very poor when these are in good shape (as Gene points out).  I climbed both in plastic boots after walking in during good spring conditions.  I wouldn't want to climb a long rock arete in AT boots and haven't.  I save those routes for after the ski season.

I guess I'm a firm believer in climbing routes when they are in the "best" shape, i.e. the most enjoyable.  This can mean other parties, but I'm OK with that.  If you want solitude during the busier season, you can always go during the week.

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, genepires said:

the few times I used leather climbing boots for splitboarding,  I got pretty annoying pain on the calf muscle.  the highbakcs are higher that the boot and would dig in on heal side turns.   Did you find a really low highback (a lowback?)  to not have this problem?  I didn't know that they could be found that low.  I shoved a small patch of foam from a ground pad back there but did not really that great.

 

Hmm...I have never noticed that issue but you bring up a great point.  I have definitely ridden a lot more in Spantiks than Nepals.  I also think your suggestion to just walk is a great one.  Especially to many of the popular routes there is a great boot pack this time of year. Here are a couple comparison pics.  

On the Spantik you can see the highback doesn't quite come to the top of the boot so definitely not a problem.

IMG_3292.thumb.jpeg.779047c845834490bbaf9459ddf9163f.jpeg

 

On the Nepal it does come up higher than the boot by about 1 1/2".  Again I have never noticed my calfs being sore or rubbing but I also have only done short decents like Aasgard Pass, Mt. Adams lower mountain and stuff in the Cabinets with them.

IMG_3290.thumb.JPEG.56d408c08b1f7a3b07700b64af939ff6.JPEG

 

I wonder if you could just flip the lever on the highback to give you more room?  You would sacrifice performance but then again we are talking about efficiency of snow travel.  This picture shows the lever flipped which creates several inches of room.  Also I believe that Burton made a Lo-Back Binding that was significantly less than a traditional highback.  Not sure they still do but maybe you could find an old used one.

IMG_3291.thumb.JPEG.2f0c2fd0712b69b0c70c4b3bb36e9f35.JPEG

Edited by mthorman
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My story:  I used to ski a lot as a teenager, but then got out of it for a while.  After climbing Hood and Helens and hiking all the way down in boots, I decided that I was done hiking down snow.  I picked up some AT skis and never looked back.  I use skis mainly to make the descent faster, even if that means they are on my back most of the way up.  Also, they give me good flotation when needed.

Look at Facebook grouips "PNW Ski Classified" and "Washington Hikers and Climbers Gear Swap."  I am not a fan of Facebook, but it seems that more and more stuff is moving away from forums and going there to sell.  A good forum for AT gear is https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/forumdisplay.php/9-Gear-Swap-(List-View).   You can pick up a used set of skis, bindings and boots for pretty cheap.   For a first set, you can pick up a whole set up for under $500 if you look long enough.   

I have a pair of Scarpa F1's that walk like a dream.  They feel like a slipper.  Even my ten year old AT boots walked very well.  I covered many miles of road and dirt in them.  Another option that I often employ if I have road or dirt walking is to wear running shoes and carry the boots attached to the skis.  So much more comfortable.   As said above, I also tailor my outing to the approach.   If there is enough snow to skin up and ski out, the rock might still be too wet or covered.  Also, if there is that much snow, roads are usually closed miles before hand (8-mile road) and I don't want to shlep all that rock gear and deal with snow in the cracks of the rock, and post-holing all the way down.   I will wait until it melts out to do long rock excursions.

I break my AT ski season into three categories:

Winter outings where I want to get into the back country, but nothing so daunting to risk avalanches.  These can be tours off of the passes, side-routes on Mt. Rainier, etc.  Less focus on peak bagging or climbing, more focus on just getting out for the day.

Spring ascents of peaks where skis give me flotation and quick access down.   Stuff where the roads are still closed.  Sahale is a great example, walk on the closed road until snow, then skin up and ski down.  Ski's give me greater access and speed that boots and snowshoes.  This category only lasts a month or two until the roads open and the trails melt out enough that i can boot up.

Ski-specific outings:  These are spring/summer ascents where half the ascent will be on foot, the other half on skins, and ski down a few thousand feet before having to boot again.  All the volcanoes fall into this category, and tours up Muir snow field and Heliotrope ridge for exercise.  I am taking the skis for the purpose of skiing.   

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45 minutes ago, needtoclimb said:

I break my AT ski season into three categories:

Thanks Needtoclimb (and everyone else).  Seems understanding the real conditions is the key (deep snow v. boot-tracked, etc.).  My entire question stemmed from the disappointment of finding last summer, during the last week of May, that many objectives I had in mind for me and my 16 year old on a three week trip were basically off the table because of road closures (Sahale, for example, where the road was closed 6 miles before the trailhead!).  We didn't realize how much snow would still be there east of the crest end of May & early June.  Even when we climbed S Early Winter Spire on June 2nd, we found ourselves post-holing wallowing in deep snow, with very little boot tracks to follow.  Add to that a last Xmas trip with a 2 hour snowshoe to get to a climb of a mixed route couloir on Broken Top in Oregon, which was my first such - and hopefully my last - long snowshoe approach and hike out (it was awful!).  So I've had in my that head skis or something else like drift boards were the answer (and probably are given conditions?), but now I'm not so sure.  I'm guessing the best advice is to call the area Ranger's office to get a clear scoop on approach conditions for any climb?

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2 hours ago, mthorman said:

Also I believe that Burton made a Lo-Back Binding that was significantly less than a traditional highback.

You can always get a cheap pair of bindings and cut the highback down to the right height for your boots.  I did that to make my board "cool" back in the 90's.

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15 minutes ago, Tom MacD said:

during the last week of May

If you want rock climbing objectives in good shape in the Cascades, this is a tough time of year.  July, however, is primo.

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Mountaineering in the cascades:

    Dec-March:  Resort skiing, maybe ice climbing, very wet hikes. 

    March-June: Volcano climbs and  back country ski tours/ascents.   Often long approaches.

    July-October:  Cascade rock and high routes.

    November:  Stay home and drink beer.

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No offense Tom but you just need to toughen up. Postholing, snowshoes, closed roads is all part of North cascades fun. My experience with asking at the ranger station is very hit and miss. Lot of the time the person you talk to has no idea of conditions except Rainier.

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