[pct-l] Snow impasses?

Eric Lee saintgimp at hotmail.com
Fri May 4 11:58:49 CDT 2012

jmhow01 at yahoo.com wrote:
I've read a lot of blogs throughout the past couple years talking about
weather conditions in the sierras creating a temporary impasse (hikers turn
back and wait it out or flip flop), but I never really get an idea as to
what conditions make it an impasse. Obviously snow is the culprit, but what
about the snow makes things impassable? Navigation difficulties? Snow
covering the trail? Snow depth? Lack of proper gear (ropes, crampons, axes)?
Ice slides?

impassable is a tricky word.  Nothing is ever impassable - until you try it
and die.  Then it's impassable for you.  You could be standing at the base
of a 1000 cliff with nothing but the clothes on your back.  Is it
impassable?  Heck no.  Just free-climb that sucker.  If it works, it was
passable.  If you fall to your death then yup, it was impassable.

Ok, that's kind of a silly way to approach it.  Realistically what people
mean by the word "impassible" is that they consider the risk of catastrophe
to be so high that it's not worth doing.  The risk level depends on a lot of
factors including the conditions at that precise moment, the skill level of
the person, and the risk tolerance of the person.

A lot of people would consider the Sierra in April to be impassable, not
because it's literally impossible to walk through it, but because the risk
as measured against their skill level, their risk tolerance, and the
potential payoff just isn't worth it.  There are a lot of hazards in the
mountains in April.  Snowstorms, uncontrolled falls, avalanches, injuries
with no one around, running out of supplies, etc.  Those risks tend to
decrease as spring progresses.  At some point each person looks at the
situation and says, "Ok, it's passable for me now."

If you follow the journals you'll notice a lot of instances where one hiker
will come upon some situation and declare it to be impassable, and another
one will travel through the same spot a couple days later with no issues.
That doesn't mean the first hiker was wrong.  Maybe the snow melted out
more, or the river level went down, or the first person had less experience,
or had more to live for.  Each person has the responsibility to evaluate
things for themselves and no one else has the right to second-guess that.
Unless they evaluate wrong and get injured or killed.  Then we armchair
hikers get to have fun dissecting their decision on PCT-L.  :-)


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