Advice on snow travel?

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Advice on snow travel?

Post by Ashery » Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:54 pm

Plenty of people posting looking for advice on where to go during the early season this year...

Plenty of people have posted about reevaluating their plans due to the high snow...

But no one has specifically asked for advice on how to learn to travel in these early season conditions.

So, here I am.

I've got a friend flying out for this particular trip (July 5-10), and learning this skill is something that we've both been wanting and meaning to do for a few years now. The problem is, where to start? When I first started backpacking several years ago, for example, I had no issue when it came to easing myself into cross-country travel despite doing solo trips. I had a decent sense of direction at the time, and it's not difficult to setup short cross-country legs that are, for the most part, fool proof; it's hard to miss a major N/S thoroughfare when you're heading due east, for example.

Learning proper ice axe technique is a bit more involved than that, however. The stakes are also quite a bit higher and depend on developing a reflexive reaction, so it's quite obviously less forgiving to trial-and-error. If you're traveling cross-country and miss a trail you were aiming for, you can realize that things don't look right an hour later and backtrack with no real harm done; the same can't be said for self-arresting.

But, with that being said, one has to start somewhere.

I'm also open to suggestions on good locations to learn/practice without getting in over our heads. I'd like to approach from the east since the Lone Pine office isn't terribly far from home (Lancaster), which, in the worst case scenario, means it'd be possible for me to drive up on the 4th and secure a walk-up permit right as they become available for the 5th. But, I realize that that's also the more challenging side to approach from, so I'm open to approaching from the west as well, even if that makes permits more difficult to acquire.

In the meantime, time to start digging into the archives on this site.

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Re: Advice on snow travel?

Post by looks easy from here » Fri Jun 14, 2019 2:11 pm

Find someplace on the map the gradient lines are nice and far apart so you don't have to worry about avalanches or going for a ride, snow is more fun to walk on in the morning when it's frozen, be careful on snow bridges, creek crossings are higher in the afternoon, stay away from edges that might have cornices, and wear lots of sunscreen. That worked for my brother an me going up Pine Creek the day after Sonora Pass opened in 2017: ... 3157n.html

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Re: Advice on snow travel?

Post by bobby49 » Fri Jun 14, 2019 2:56 pm

Developing ice axe and crampon skills will generally depend on the mountain guide service that you select. Some are noted for being good leaders, and others are noted for being good instructors.

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Re: Advice on snow travel?

Post by c9h13no3 » Fri Jun 14, 2019 3:10 pm

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills is the bible on traveling in the mountains. That's a good place to start. That book has everything, from what color your long underwear should be (white), to how to walk on snow, to technical stuff.

I think learning how to kick steps, what crampons are good for (traction on consolidated hard snow/neve), and learning how snow melts & behaves around rocks, water, brush, and time of day is more important than learning self arrest. If you fall over backwards on hard snow wearing a 40 lb. pack, self arresting is going to be really hard. Best thing is not to fall.

And honestly, I think snow travel sucks this time of year. Everything is sun-cupped & slushy. I'd much rather be skiing on smooth snow in April than hiking on foot tall sun cups in July.
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