[pct-l] Snow snow snow. Let's go!

ned at mountaineducation.org ned at mountaineducation.org
Fri Jan 20 00:32:18 CST 2017

Hey, Shroomer! 

I'm going to start adding a few comments to each of your snow-related posts
since 1/13, as I've been out of the office for a little while (medical
recert courses...),

There is a huge difference between having the right gear or the right skills
for snow! 

Having the right gear means nothing if you do not know what to do with it.
Even practicing at home, reading accounts, or watching videos doesn't
translate to doing the right physical actions that will keep you safe.

Having the right skills, coupled with understanding what you're looking at
(regarding risks ahead of you on the snow), is what will bring you
confidence, peace of mind, and free you up to enjoy and play on snow without
fear or concern.

This applies to creek crossings, too! When you're confronted by a whitewater
torrent that makes so much noise you have to yell at your partners standing
next to you just to be heard, you've got to take the crossing very
seriously! Steep snow has the potential to bring you painful injury and a
helicopter ride to the hospital, but creek crossings can and have been fatal
to backpackers not trained in assessment and crossing skills. That's why
Mountain Education teaches safe creek crossing techniques.

Ice axes are great tools for mountaineering, but in the hands of a
backpacker, they make little sense. How do you hold it, when do you use it,
and why are all foreign concepts. Heck, walking on snow was something we all
avoided until we couldn't, then realized it adds so much to the beauty and
fun of a hike! The Self-Arrest Pole is a far more practical tool for the
snow-hiker who isn't self-belaying or chopping steps in ice.

The subject of traction devices has been exhausted, but if anyone missed
those posts, just go to the Mountain Education Facebook page for great info!
Basically, though, if you're not walking in someone else's footsteps, take
hiking crampons early season; if you are in a boot-track, take microspikes.
Know the pros and cons of both because tools, by themselves, do not make you

How much snow will you have to deal with? I can't answer that any more than
I can predict the weather! As a few have already said, 

- the depth of the snow doesn't matter. You walk on top of it anyway.
- the temperature of the winter will dictate where snowline may be when you
get there. Colder = lower.
- the timing and intensity of the sierra thaw will do the same. Late start =
lower. Early & Hot = higher
- additional spring snow, wind, cool temps, or even just clouds will keep
the snow around longer.
- heavy rains will accelerate the thaw and make the snow go away faster (and
the creeks to rise higher!).
- if you're staring at it, you're going to have to walk over or around it,
but sooner or later you'd better know how!
- waiting for the snow to melt is like watching grass grow. Yes, you can
select a hiking date later in the season to avoid miles of snow-hiking near
the high passes, but after a normal or heavy winter, that date may be

Snow is a joy and adds so much fun and beauty to a hike. Learn how to play
on it safely and you'll have a blast out there!

Ned Tibbits, Director
Mountain Education, Inc.
ned at mountaineducation.org 

-----Original Message-----
From: Pct-L [mailto:pct-l-bounces at backcountry.net] On Behalf Of Scott
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 1:55 PM
To: Brick Robbins <brick at brickrobbins.com>
Cc: pct-l at backcountry.net
Subject: Re: [pct-l] Snow snow snow. Let's go!

I completely agree with Brick regarding the relative safety of snow with the
right gear and technique, vs the very real danger of the swollen streams.
In 2010, a high snow year due to a very late melt out, we also had to go
well upstream of the usual little summer crossing of Evolution Creek,  and
made human chains to get the lighter weight members of our party across Bear
Creek.  That one was really scary.

One of my favorite pieces of gear that year were full on Kahtoola hiking
crampons.  They're relatively light and allow you to cut steps and do the
kind of plunge stepping you'll need.  Much better in real Sierra snow pack
than Microspikes and only a touch heavier.  My buddy Venture in cramps, had
to cut steps last year for folks with Microspikes who's spikes had "balled
up" so badly they couldn't go forward.  In really serious, crusty, icy early
season conditions, I much prefer real hiking cramps.

A good light weight ice axe was also essential to safely belay yourself on
the steep traverses, for cutting steps, and for safe glissading.

Another thing we did because of the high snow was to head out of Lone Pine
with a group of friends who promised to stay together through the High
Sierra to Sonora Pass.  Not only was this a safe move, it gave all of us the
most wonderful if hard backpacking experience of our lives.  I count all
these folks as some of my dearest friends to this day.

With all of this, keep in mind that all can change in a few weeks of early
warm weather, or virtually overnight given a heavy "pineapple express" rain
storm.  But being ready to change up your strategy and gear is often
essential for a thru hike.

Have a wonderful hike!  The snow only adds to the fun you'll have if you're
prepared for it.


On Jan 13, 2017 11:53 AM, "Brick Robbins" <brick at brickrobbins.com> wrote:

> On Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:08 AM, Casey Stevens 
> <costevens078 at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > Appreciate the admonishments!
> Snow is what seems to concern folks about early entry into the Sierra, 
> but snow is really not that big a deal. Postholing is a pain and slows 
> you down, but if you carry and iceaxe and you know how to use it, then 
> snow travel is fairly safe, just be careful of falling through the 
> snow into voids caused by running water.
> The REAL danger is getting killed in stream crossings. Most of the big 
> rivers will have bridges, but many of the "jump across" streams will 
> be swollen to raging waist deep (or deeper) torrents.
> I was swept away at Bear Creek, and could have easily been killed.
> Kerrick Canyon was downright scary, and a fall would have been deadly.
> I had to cross Evolution Creek (in the meadows, well upstream of the 
> normal crossing) by putting my pack in a bag, and swimming in the 
> freezing runoff water. Crossing at the normal ford would have been 
> deadly.
> The water was so high that wading was require at both sides of the 
> Glen Aulin Bridge over the Tuolumne river.
> The snow may slow you down, but the water will kill you.
> Be careful out there
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