AdministratorFebruary 8, 2018 at 4:53 pm
I have microspikes, snowshoes, and crampons and have used all three at various times. Here’s my $0.02 worth…
Snowshoes are fun and easy to learn. The only tricky thing to remember is that you need to turn carefully and deliberately; you can’t whip around like when you’re hiking with regular shoes. I’ve found that snowshoes are most useful in deep snow (where there is not “tread” laid down by other hikers). So far, there was only one snow hike up Mount San Jacinto where snowshoes would’ve been useful. I left mine in the car that day, and instead “post-holed” up to my crotch more often than I can count. It was a slog.
Microspikes are AWESOME for packed snow and ice where there is already some tread laid down. Joan and I used microspikes on a hike up Icehouse Canyon to the saddle a couple years ago, and they gave great traction and confidence. The trick here is to not get overconfident… which leads to crampons.
If you are using crampons, that means you are ALSO using an ice axe and helmet, because you are now doing something called winter mountaineering. When does a snow hike turn into winter mountaineering? My REI Winter Mountaineering Skills instructor said it best: “If you slip, could you slide to your death?” Think about that when you’re traversing a steep, snow-covered slope. Of course, having the gear also means knowing how to properly use it, including traversing, ascending, descending, and self-arrest. All of these require appropriate training.
I did a snow hike up San Gorgonio with @greg a couple years ago and we used microspikes up until High Creek, then crampons and ice axe up to the ridgeline, then reverted back to microspikes for the remaining hike to the summit. Having the appropriate gear and training also made it safe for us to to glissade down to High Creek on our way back. Nobody should be glissading without a helmet, ice axe and proper training, period.
One item I didn’t note here, but always bring on these hikes anyway are trekking poles. Pop on the snow baskets if the snow is deep enough to warrant them, but definitely bring poles and use them.
If at any time you find yourself feeling you might be getting in over your head, trust your gut turn around. The mountain will always be there to climb another day.