[Cdt-l] Real Ice Axes

ned at mountaineducation.org ned at mountaineducation.org
Tue Mar 23 02:57:11 CDT 2010

Hey, Ed!

When I bought my first axe, a Grivel from The Ski Hut in Berkeley, it was in 1972 and it measures 36" long! That was when Colin Fletcher promoted using them as walking stick, pack prop, and mountaineering axe!  I still use it for fun once in a while. 

Thanks for encouraging all hikers who expect to encounter snow during their hikes to learn how to safely deal with it, whether that be by learning edge control with their boots, glissading, self-arrest techniques, safe route selection to avoid avalanche-prone slopes or while ascending or descending, or simply finding the safest way down into the creek or lake to get water without falling in!

It doesn't matter to us where people receive their training as long as they do so out on the snow under the experienced eye of someone who knows what they're teaching. Local Junior and Community Colleges, State Universities, stores like REI and EMS, and others often offer training courses for winter backcountry travel. 

Hikers who have never tried to cross a steep snow field may do well if their footing is good and never fall, but if the footing is not ideal because of ice, crust, slippery suncups, or a sudden, unexpected posthole, they should know how to self-arrest. 

The condition of the snow is everything! They should know in advance how to assess it before stepping out onto it. Just because someone else walked across it and left tracks days earlier, doesn't mean it is safe today. How slippery is surface hoar and what does it look like? Is there true ice in the Spring Sierra or just icy crust? What does a hiker do if a foot or two of snow falls (and this has happened in every month of the year sometime in the past in the Sierra) on the existing consolidated 3-foot pack--is it safe to snowshoe through it without concern for immediate avalanches?

Start asking questions! They never hurt anybody. Is there an issue here that a hiker should learn about before they find themselves in it? When walking on snow, you are counting on friction to keep you standing. You can never be 100% certain of when you're going to slip. You CAN be certain of when the probabilities are high once you can identify the signs on the snow and in the snowpack. Take a winter snow course somewhere...you will be safer and more confident for it, even if you never slip, fall, and get injured.

Ned Tibbits, Director
Mountain Education
P.O. Box 1477
South Lake Tahoe, Ca. 96156
    P: 888-996-8333
    F: 530-541-1456
    C: 530-721-1551
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