[Cdt-l] Reccomend snowshoes in San Juans?

Matthew Edwards Hetchhetchyman at aol.com
Wed Mar 9 09:56:41 CST 2011

I left Chama May 31st last year. The trail was 90% snow covered till Stony Pass. Then almost magically the snow became about 40% coverage to Spring Creek Pass.
The type of snow i found was mostly consolidated hard pack from morning till about 2PM. Then it became increasingly soft until i was postholing for many hours until late afternoon.
I used an Ice axe and sometimes screwed some 3/8" sheetmetal screws into the bottom of my trail runners for ice traction in the mornings.
The Ice axe was definitely helpful and I would consider it mandatory for the snowslopes I had to cross. Kicking steps left my feet a bit raw but the trail runners worked okay. I did not use gaiters so my calves became pretty raw and trashed after plungin into the snow for hours every day. My mileage went down to 14 MPD for 14 hours of hiking through the section from Cumbres Pass to Stony Pass.
It was hard going but snowshoes would have only been helpful for perhaps a few hours late in each day.. not worth the weight/effort compromise in my opinion.
What i would do different would be to carry better traction aids. The sheetmetal screws were workable but pretty minimal. I would go with a pair micro spikes or maybe crampons next time. I would also definitely use gaiters for the snow to avoid the "bloody calf" syndrome.
The best piece of gear i brought were my neoprene glacier gloves. They insulated my hands from the aluminum handle of my Camp Corsa Iceaxe but provided superb grip for chopping steps. Be ready for major UV light from snow reflection.. I burnt the inside of my nose!
Your situation will no doubt be different to to yearly variations of snowpack, weather, and timing. The San Juans are beautiful covered in snow! My best piece of advice when the snow gets soft is forget about your pace. Focus on your surroundings and make short goals. It may take an hour to go 100 yards sometimes on an icy snowcovered sideslope or postholing accross rotted snow. The reward is a stunning landscape in the process of emerging into spring.
I am so freakin' Jealous of you right now!
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