Snow travel gear dilema

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Wandering Daisy
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Snow travel gear dilema

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 16, 2017 8:13 am

I had all bases covered when I went over Mono Pass this last week. All this did was make my pack heavy! The problem is I only have two hands, so taking both trekking poles and an ice axe really did not make a lot of sense. What to take, when snow is like it is now, drastically varying from ice to slush on steep slopes is always a difficult decision for me. A few observations and mistakes I made.

1. Crampons. Going in early in the morning, I needed, and used my crampons. Problem is that I failed to really inspect them after I used them last summer. They are older aluminum flexible crampons. The front and back part are connected by a bar with a T-end. One "T" broke half way across, which made for very interesting traverse. You are committed once on a traverse on steep snow- cannot stop and fix anything until you get across. Inspecting the good crampon when I did get across, I saw that it too had started to bend.

2. I have two sets of trekking poles. Just out of habit I took my lighter Leki's which happen to have one missing point, and the other worn down. No problem on dirt trails, but were nearly worthless on icy snow. I should have taken my heavier Black Diamond poles which have good points.

3. Micro-spikes. Met two backpackers when I went out- it was about noon and the snow was softer and very wet. They had micro-spikes, which in those conditions did not help, in fact were worse than going without. This is because the snow was very prone to "balling". I think most hikers who buy micro-spikes are not aware of "balling", which make the bottom of your micro-spikes a mass of snow and ice. Same thing happens with crampons. Traction devices are great for hard snow and ice, but if collect snow on the bottom, you absolutely need to knock off the snow (with trekking pole) about every other step. At some point that does not work either. The ironic thing, is that these two were wearing actual mountaineering boots with deep aggressive tread, which actually work better in soft snow. The advantage of traction devices, is that it allows you to travel snow any time of the day. This is very useful, when snow becomes miserably soft by afternoon- so an early start will allow more miles before the snow becomes too soft. Once over Mono Pass, you get to go through a mile of sun-cup hell, which is much easier on harder snow. But, please, know the limitations of your traction devices.


4. Ice axe- the purpose of the ice axe is to allow you to self arrest. On hard icy steep slopes, the chance of really arresting if you fall (especially with a pack on) is not good. Therefore, I prefer crampons and trekking poles and just hope I do not fall! If the snow is soft, then you can effectively stop using an ice axe and feet. But you will just cartwheel over if you have on crampons. Never tried to self arrest with micro-spikes, so not sure they would do the same. In soft snow, it is your feet that will quickly stop the fall. My feeling is that on softer snow, a good tread shoe or boot and ice axe is the safest.

5. Run-out. Be aware of what is below. Mono Pass has two snow bowls that you traverse above. The first has a rock band that you would crash into. The second although steeper is just a snow bowl where you would get a little beat up but not likely serious. Most people seemed to be ignorantly blissful with regard to where they would end up if they fell.

6. Slope. Snow slope is not necessarily the same as the topographic slope. Snow not only falls, it drifts creating steeper slopes than shown on the topographic map. The extreme example is a cornice. You may look on a map and think you do not need to take gear for steep slopes, but once there, you could run into much steeper slopes than expected.

7. Unstable snow- no gear is going to save you from this. The trail under the snow. Someone goes across the first time, and then, a "snow trail" is gradually made by others. The path established is not necessarily directly above the actual trail. As the snow melts, especially in late afternoon, the "path" could collapse, you along with it, particularly in spots where the snow "path" crosses rock slabs which melt out from the base. Directly above the trail is usually more stable, but then, who knows where the trail actually is located? Again, all the day-hikers on Mono Pass seemed oblivious to this. Personally I do not like to cross any steep snow slope late in the day, regardless of what gear I am carrying.








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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by cgundersen » Sun Jul 16, 2017 9:57 am

Hi Daisy,
I think your comments here probably qualify as the authoritative report on this matter. My personal bias is that I get big heavy boots that I trust, and I do not attempt anything that looks out of my comfort zone (and, for me, crampons and an ice axe would inspire me to try things out of my comfort zone, so I leave them behind). And, to give a bit of a visual to your comment on cornices, I'd peered over the edge of the beastie below and obviously backed off for an easier pitch. I have half a hunch that in a "normal" summer, this route would be a "go", but as depicted here, it's nothing that I'd tackle, even without a pack. cg
cornice.jpg
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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 16, 2017 10:24 am

Over the years I developed an ankle problem that precludes wearing mountaineering boots any more, otherwise I certainly would prefer boots to light hikers this time of year. The light hikers that fit my feet have a mellow tread, so I tend to need traction devices in snow.

Also, forgot to mention, because I ALWAYS wear them, but knee-high gaiters are great! Through all the snowy mush, I actually had mostly dry feet- a little damp but never soaked. Also nice not to post-hole in snow and get snow up your leg. I got a new pair of Rocky Mountain High gaiters at the REI sale this spring. This is my third pair- just love them.

Yes, I usually leave the ice axe home, because, when I take it I tend to want to do the hard stuff. Since I do not regularly snow climb anymore, I need to reduce the temptation. I really should have never taken the ice-axe to begin with.

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by balance » Sun Jul 16, 2017 12:17 pm

Thanks WD

Good description of the problem with spring conditions, which are more diverse and complicated than summer (more complicated than winter, for that matter). Sometimes deciding whether to use trekking poles or the ice ax causes me stress.

Doesn't the trail up to Mono Pass right now have some sections that are nothing but a very steep traverse with a lot of exposure?

All in all, its a lot better to have too much snow than not enough.

Thankful.

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by acvdmlac » Mon Jul 24, 2017 12:33 pm

Hi, Daisy,

Just curious, are you talking about the high/southern Mono Pass, i.e. out of Rock Creek to Mono Creek watershed, or the lower/northern Mono Pass from Bloody Canyon to the Parker Pass Creek watershed? Trying to get a sense of conditions we may encounter in a couple weeks. Thanks for the helpful combo gear and technique commentary + TR!

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by Tom_H » Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:32 pm

acvdmlac wrote:Hi, Daisy,

Just curious, are you talking about the high/southern Mono Pass, i.e. out of Rock Creek to Mono Creek watershed, or the lower/northern Mono Pass from Bloody Canyon to the Parker Pass Creek watershed? Trying to get a sense of conditions we may encounter in a couple weeks. Thanks for the helpful combo gear and technique commentary + TR!
If you don't hear back from WD right away it doesn't mean she's ignoring you. During the summer she returns from one trip and barely takes the time to pack food for the next trip, so she may already be headed out again. I can't presume to answer your question for her, but I think she probably won't mind me saying that conditions may change considerably between now and then.

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by acvdmlac » Tue Jul 25, 2017 8:09 am

No worries. Changing conditions is half the fun!

I'm curious partly because I went over the lower/northern Mono Pass a couple years ago, and am hoping to go over the higher/southern Mono as part of a future Silver Divide loop. I find benchmark winters like this last one useful for getting a generalized sense of what to plan for at various locations and elevations...

I'm guessing she's talking about the latter, as the northern one is lower, and quite gentle until the ascent/descent in Bloody Canyon...

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by longri » Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:15 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:4. Ice axe- the purpose of the ice axe is to allow you to self arrest. On hard icy steep slopes, the chance of really arresting if you fall (especially with a pack on) is not good. Therefore, I prefer crampons and trekking poles and just hope I do not fall!
You left out self-belay. It's typically done with the shaft planted in the snow but sometimes with the pick. It's an anchor that will keep you from falling if a foot slips. Trekking poles don't work as well for this.

Self-belay is the first line of defense with regard to using an axe. You don't want to have to self-arrest and you don't want to simply hope you won't fall.

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by acvdmlac » Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:28 am

You left out self-belay. It's typically done with the shaft planted in the snow but sometimes with the pick. It's an anchor that will keep you from falling if a foot slip
Can you elaborate on self-belay technique w/pole? Thanks!

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Post by longri » Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:58 am

acvdmlac wrote:Can you elaborate on self-belay technique w/pole? Thanks!
With a pole it's hard to self belay. You really need snow that is soft enough to drive the pole into the snow. A pole basket will get in the way of that. Maybe you can force the grip side in instead.

So with poles the idea is to use them to brace yourself and stay balanced enough that you don't slip in the first place. If you do slip you'll probably fall. And self-arrest with poles is less effective.

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