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Claire

Snow Travel Skills

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Hi all,

 

I'm wondering what the best way to go about learning basic snow travel skills is without spending tons money. I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this spring and, although it's too early to tell, the initial snow reports in the Sierras suggest that this year my have a pretty high snow pack. I want to feel really comfortable with using an ice axe, self-arresting, etc, before I get out on the trail, but I'm not sure the best way to go about learning and practicing these skills. Any suggestions on where to start?

 

Thanks!

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ask your friends for help. look for PCT hiker peeps gatherings.. i can put you in touch with a few PDX folk who hiked last year or the year before.. i recently saw a handful of them discussing a get-together specifically cause there was someone who wanted to do it in 2013 who wanted general advice.

 

otherwise guide companies or mazamas offer different things, but honestly i think those avenues are overkill for the PCT, not that they couldn't be applied to that end.

 

send a pm if you want me to pass your info onto some '11 or '12 hikers in the area.

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free option = freedom of the hills from library and go to a unused portion of a ski area. (maybe early or late in day) You will need a firm surface to slide on and that can be hard to find in the winter. You need to learn to kick solid steps (duck feet and diagonal stride), plunge step, self belay and self arrest. (Self arrest being #1 skill)

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Are you planning on thru-hiking or section hiking?

 

I would think you'd be better off devoting that extra weight to additional traction (like a set of microspikes), and snow baskets for your poles... Is an ice axe recommended by guidebooks or other resources?

 

I've never hiked through the Sierras on the PCT, but I would think an ice axe would be overkill (and super heavy). It's always just better to not fall - and underfoot traction and a pair of sturdy poles will help with that much more than an axe.

 

 

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Claire:

 

I hiked in '06, a very high snow year.

 

What you'll NEED to know is how to self arrest. I slipped and fell going up one of the passes and needed the axe.

 

As suggested, find yourself a nice slope with 100% safe runout to practice on. FOTH will have all the book knowledge you'll need for a thru.

 

To the posted that suggested you spend your weight on traction aids and baskets - you won't really need baskets. The snow in June is fully consolidated and firm. Micro spikes might be useful, although the above noted time I slipped, I had instep crampons on. There were times in '06 that I would have turned back without the ice axe - I saw others without turn back, which, after doing the passes that scared them, was a prudent move.

 

Plunge stepping will be quite a handy skill to have. Do a little glissade practice as well - it's a good way to build up some speed to practice the arrest.

 

There are lots of thru's in PDX. Make a post on the PCT-L asking for a local mentor and you'll be sure to have several willing to get together and answer your questions.

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Crampons will not stop you if you slide. They will break your ankles however and, if you're new with crampons, you should really have an axe along in case you stumble. Warm spring snow is nothing but a nightmare with crampons anyway, as snow balling-up underfoot can make them downright dangerous, or at best, a total pain in the ass. You can find REALLY light aluminum axes that are basically made for self-arrest only ( http://www.camp-usa.com/products/ice-axes/corsa.asp ) and weigh just over 7 oz.

 

For relatively easy access to good sliding terrain, I'd head up to Pan Point above Paradise. Great run-out, good pitch, and you can go as high as you like. This face does slide occasionally, but that's all I'll say about that. The same high-traffic that makes it generally packed enough to slide on, also makes it "generally" safe avy-wise. I'll reiterate though - it can slide. Finding something steep enough to slide on in a ski resort from the base would be, I think, problematic. And bumpy.

 

I used to guide kids in the Rockies and rather than suit up a 12 yo. with pointy things, we'd practice self-arrest by kicking feet and dragging elbows with your arse high in the air, which is actually really effective in soft snow. FOTH should have that in there as well.

 

Good luck!

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I've never hiked through the Sierras on the PCT, but I would think an ice axe would be overkill (and super heavy). It's always just better to not fall - and underfoot traction and a pair of sturdy poles will help with that much more than an axe.

 

About a pound, or half that if you get the Camp Corsa. But that one costs more.

 

An ice axe is a really good thing to have out in the backcountry on snow or ice. Or if you have to intimidate drunk people at the trailhead. ;)

 

Besides finding a place with a safe runout and practicing self arrest (head up hill, head down hill, belly up, belly down) until you can do it reflexively without thinking, you should learn to use the axe for self belay, to prevent yourself from falling in the first place.

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AR Guy mentioned instep crampons -- I'd recommend microspikes or even yaktrax over instep crampons: problem is, instep crampon points engage only when your foot is flat. Most people toe off when walking, rather than place the next foot flat before lifting the rear foot. This results in disengaging the points of one instep crampon before the others engage - almost guaranteeing a slip. It is perfectly possible to self-arrest with trekking poles, but whether you choose ice-axe or poles, thorough practice is obligatory.

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there are a couple of passes down there that are pretty steep on the north sides. Glen pass will be pretty scary. the good news is is that the south faces of the passes will be melted out from the sun, and you will have met several hikers that you can tackle it with. I think a 50cm camp corsa and some micro spikes and youll be cruisin.

 

up at timberline lodge there are several slopes in salmon river canyon that you can practice self arrest on, right near the parking lot.

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I agree with all posted here except that I have some worry about the 50 cm ice axe for self arrest. Be careful as the spike may end up very close to your entrails and the tool itself may be difficult control if you use a short axe like that.

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Microspikes and a Whippet (self arrest trekking pole made by BD) are probably the most cost/weight effective solution, assuming you hike with poles anyway. Microspikes are useless when there's an inch of slush over an icy layer, however. I prefer AL six points (lighter than microspikes, actually) for extended trips when I'm not sure what I'll encounter, but they require a little practice to get used to. Alternatively, you can self arrest with a regular trekking pole. Carrying an axe for 1 or two short slopes seems excessive unless you're planning on climbing stuff along the way. Learn how to self arrest with your elbows in case you lose your pole/axe/whippet.

 

Practice with whatever you choose, of course. Mostly, its a balance thing.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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Monty: Yeah, I used insteps since I wasn't aware of microspikes in '06 - figured they'd be better than nothing and lighter than the aluminum 10 points I had. Plus, I knew if I fell with the 10 points, it takes a lot more skill to safely self arrest. Insteps were a false sense of security. What I needed to do was properly kick in the steps, take my time and be careful - technique not equipment. I wouldn't bring anything as far as traction aids were I to do another thru hike - no micros, no yak trax, etc. Of course, to each their own.

 

I've got to disagree with chirstophbenells a bit. If it's a normal to heavy snow year, the climb up the passes will NOT be snow free with typical thru hiker timing. In a heavy snow year ('05, '06, '12, etc) you'll certainly be trudging through snow for miles on the south side of the passes, then climbing snow to reach the pass, then descending through even more miles snow on the north side. While climbing, you'll want an axe of proper length since, if your prudent, you'll be setting a self belay with every step and moving only one point of contact at a time. I used a 60 cm axe (I'm 5'9") and found it to be a bit short even though it measured out "right" (point just shy of touching the ground when holding in the hand with arm at the side) - I'd go for a 70 the next time. The extra couple of ounces for the longer shaft is worth staying more upright on a sketch climbing traverse and being less likely to self impale if you actually need to arrest. YMMV.

Edited by AR_Guy

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