Lightweight and Ultralightweight Backpacking

The View from Here

Panoramic view from a mountain top in Glacier National Park, Montana


If not near high mountains, which may have a crevasse, snow travel is not as complicated.

However, if you have to break trail, you could be "post-holing" in over knee-deep snow and that can lead quickly to exhaustion.

Snowshoes help.

There are reasonably lightweight snowshoes for the combined weight of you and your pack.

If you need to cross a slope, there are specialized snowshoes with a heel-lift and metal spikes and metal edges for traction of reasonably light weight specifically designed for mountain travel.

It may be necessary to kick-step into the snow on a somewhat steep slope.

If the snow slope has a crust you may need to have Kahtoola MICROspikes, for example, or Stubai Ultralight Universal Crampons.

Before you attempt a crossing on a steep snow slope, say more than 30 degrees of slope, recognize consciously there is an avalanche hazard.

Is there indication of past avalanche, e.g. trees scraped off the slope? no trees a distance up the other side of the ravine?

Does the snow have little snowballs running anywhere at all off the slope, or cracks and fissures indicating slippage?

Are there different layers, for example, a crust on softer snow, and much much worse, a crust layer covered over by a soft layer and additional layers? Is there thick dry slab on soft snow?

This may require digging down through the snow near the edge of a risky slope to find out.

Even so, I don't know everything about it.

I have avalanche training. I don't take chances like that.

If you feel wrong about the slope, go around or leave. Simply make a change of plans.

This is why map and compass work are so important: you may need to find an alternate route to get around that slope, or find an alternate way out.

In mountains, this is all so much more important.

That said, if cut off from exit, there is less risk on the the windward side of a slope because snow accumulates more on the leeward side.

The cornice, if any, is on the leeward side.

Do not go cross steep side hills or enter narrow, steeply sided canyons. The safest route may be near a ridgetop on the windward side, away from cornices. The next safest route is out in the valley, far from the bottom of the risk slope.

There is a reason mountainclimbers are called mountaineers. We are equipped, we know what we are doing, we know we can trust the others with us to rescue us and they know they can trust us to rescue them before we are out on the real deal.

Having a Guide, or Guiding, is no guarantee.

Clients have perished. Clients have been known to cause the death of the Guide.

Hike, but don't do the real mountaineering stuff unless you learn how and are properly equipped with knowledge, equipment, and companions that are as good, or better, than you.

If you are not properly equipped in clothing and gear including compatible beacons and maybe probe poles, at least have snow shovels perhaps in a "Shove-it" type daypack and have a brightly colored long lightweight avalanche cord attached at one end to you.

Maybe you should just stay off of a steep snow slope.

This is the best assurance of getting to be there with the mountain, and not become a casualty.

Here are two helpful videos, from The Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

Ice Axe Self Arrest

The techniques may be reasonably safely practiced on a snow slope with no rocks and a good long runout, such as that at a ski resort (if the ski resort will allow a practice session).

Crevasse Rescue

Maybe this video convinces you to stay off glaciers?

Look, they are roped up. The rescuer has the right equipment and is well-practiced in the technique.

In an authentic rescue, the rescuer would work without pause because it is so cold in a crevasse even a conscious person in there can quickly lose use of their motor muscles to assist getting up and over the edge.

That victim was dressed warmer than he would be for the exertion involved in climbing, or, he dresses warmer and proceeds slow enough to avoid getting the insulating layers wet from sweating.

There is another reason an ice axe is a good thing.

It may be used as a probe before taking the next step. A pole probe, sold online where mountaineering snow shovels are sold, is an even better probe. If the hole is ice blue with light and not darker, it is very likely a snowed-over crevasse. Slowly back away.

It is not a cartoon joke to be jump off a cornice. Beware of cornices. Avoid getting under a cornice or standing near a cornice because a cornice tends to break away much further back than the overhanging edge.

By the way, the crevasse at the top near the rock face is called a bergschrund. The snow that falls onto the top portion of it may make it appear to be no big deal.

The bergschrund is another considerable risk. It is a special crevasse that breaks away near the top of a glacial snow field nearest the rock face. A bergschrund can be the deepest crevasse, like Wikipedia says, 100 meters deep sloping away down along the mountain rock and, in all practicality, can be impossible to do a rescue. There may be more recent snow, making it appear safe. It is never safe. It is true, snow bridges are never safe. If you are able to cross a reasonably safe snow bridge, for example, over a shallow but cold stream, well and good. Nevertheless, probe each step with an ice axe. If the hold made by the ice axe is pale blue or shows thru to air, of course, it is unsafe. Back off.

Strap-on crampons with short points are reasonably safe for crossing a somewhat steep snowfield. That's it.

If you do not have experienced skilled mountaineer climbers with you to train you before you make the attempt, and, you are not roped, you are taking unacceptable risk.

Making a crossing of a snowfield can make it break loose in an avalanche. The lengthening day can make a snowfield break loose in an avalanche.

Route-finding is not for crossing a snow basin. It is a beautiful place to observe from a distance only.

Take pictures, using a long zoon lens.

copyright © 2017 Connie Dodson. All Rights Reserved.