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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- The Sierras are beautiful, but they’re more beautiful in snow
- 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.
Click HERE for more info about hiking and camping in snow