Get FAQed: Pacific Crest Trail: Snow and The Sierras

In 2010 I had the privilege of hiking in an above-average-snow-fall-year. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’d ever done.  Looks like the Sierras are getting some much needed snow this year! Will it be an above average snow fall? It’s too early to tell and I’m no weather psychic, but here are some tips to help you prepare for hiking through snow.

Do I need snowshoes? An ice axe? Crampons?

In average to below- average- snow- fall years (2009,2012,2014) I did not use any snow travel gear; however, in 2010 I carried an ice axe and micro spikes. Are these items absolutely necessary for a successful PCT Sierra traverse in snow? No, I have seen hikers go through successfully without them. Does that mean you should? No. The route will traverse steep slopes, and these slopes can be slippery during the mornings and evenings. The ice axe is there in case you fall and need to self arrest, and the micro spikes give you better traction. Use micro spikes instead of snowshoes or crampons, they’re lighter and easier to put on and take off of your trail runners.

Using an ice axe for support across the infamous Forester Pass snow shoot


What were some of the more challenging aspects? 

  • Soft snow, sun cups, and post holing make progress slower, expect to hike less than 20 miles a day
A sea of sun cups, $%^!
Waist deep post hole! $&^!
  • When hiking in snow, 80-90% of UV light is reflected at you, dramatically increasing your sun exposure. I got burned in weird places, like that part of your nose between your nostrils. So don’t forget to put sunscreen on those parts.
Descending Muir Pass, working on my tan
  • Your feet will always be wet. In the mornings, before the heat of the day, they will be cold and wet. And just when you’ve gotten them warm, you’ll have to cross a frigid creek. Your shoes will freeze overnight unless you sleep with them inside your sleeping bag. If you don’t want to do that, you can use your stove to thaw them out in the morning.

What were some highlights? 

  • Glissading! Anyone can butt glissade, but a real baller can glissade on their feet. Hone your skills, and you’ll go places. Stay in control and don’t glissade on an icy slope. Use your ice axe to stay in control. Someone else’s glissade line can be icy, especially early mornings and evenings.
I created my own slide because the other one was icy
  • The Sierras are beautiful, but they’re more beautiful in snow


Bullfrog Lake 2012, with The Croatian Sensation
Bullfrog Lake 2010, with The Croatian Sensation
  • Hiking in snow is hard so there will be less people. You might see only a few John Muir Trail thru- hikers and a lot of PCT thru-hikers will flip up north to hike south or they’ll drop out.
  • If you get through it, you’ll be a stronger hiker mentally and physically.
The Croatian Sensation headed into VVR for some food and beer, after 176 miles through some of the toughest terrain the PCT has to offer

Click HERE for more info about hiking and camping in snow

One thought on “Get FAQed: Pacific Crest Trail: Snow and The Sierras

  1. Excellent suggestions for traveling in snow. As you know, we here in Bham love our snow and love to hike in the snow. Love my spikes and my gaiters, they live in my pack all winter long! The tip about the sun exposure is spot on. When I first went up to the summit of Baker I went with American Alpine Institute. The guide told us of others who had sunburns on the roof of their mouths because you are mouth breathing on the way up!

    Liked by 1 person

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