1. Ned Tibbits
    Ned Tibbits August 5, 2014 at 5:07 am


    You always have great and wise advice for the aspiring JMT traveler!

    What if snow is anticipated on the passes? Since wilderness safety is what Mountain Education is all about, most of these details are found on the school’s website/Facebook pages, but a “nutshell” of info will get hikers started!

    Two principles to remember: Hard snow is slippery. Soft snow will bog you down and “post-holing” can be dangerous.

    Going along with those two principles are issues of timing: If I go up the pass before 10am, the snow may still be hard and slippery. If I wait and hit the top after noon, I may be suddenly sinking in (post-holing) on the way up and down and that is not only fatiguing, but may cause injury, but I probably won’t have slippery footing to worry about!

    In general, with footwear that will grip the snow (boots, hiking crampons, self-arrest poles, etc.), we find after 32 years of teaching sierra snow-hiking skills, that dealing with firm snow is safer and more predictable than wallowing through soft, afternoon, post-holing, exhausting slush…and the glissades down the back sides are more fun!

    It doesn’t matter whether you are on 8 inches or 8 feet of consolidated snow, you deal with it the same way. The hazards of a small “drift” across the trail are no different to deal with than those the size of a football field. The main point is to learn how to be safe on snow before you encounter it. A hastily planned trip that doesn’t explore and prepare for the possible sorrows and sufferings will only end up with both!

  2. Steve Piccinati
    Steve Piccinati August 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Good advice as always!!! I’ve been section hiking the JMT with my adult Son over the past 18 months -because of our schedules we can only take 4 or 5 days at a time. As a result of this, I am never fully aclimated to the altitude or the exertion the passes take – We just crossed Selden this past week. My Son’s recommendation is to keep “the little man” out of my head – that one that tells me to stop every 5 paces – instead I set a pace/goal of steps to take when I’m on the steep switchbacks on a pass – (as Ray has noted before, there really are 57 switchbacks on Selden!). I used a “100” pace count which usually got me thru 2 switchbacks and found that I could hike a little further and faster than in the past. It worked for me anyway…
    Happy Trails!

  3. Dave
    Dave August 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

    The “3 Rules” you devised are golden, indeed, Ray. We’ve been fortunate to agree, appreciate, and apply them each time we’ve gone trekking over the past year including a JMT thru hike in June. I printed a copy and carry it with all other essential paperwork (maps, permits, etc.).

  4. John Ladd
    John Ladd August 6, 2014 at 5:33 am

    I agree with Colin Fletcher (author of the then-groundbreaking 1000 Mile Summer and Man who Walked thru Time) who said that the most common mistake among new backpackers is walking too fast. It is surprisingly hard to make yourself walk slowly enough on ascents at altitude with a pack (of any weight). The goal is to get to the top breathing easily enough to carry on a conversation without pauses for breath (the classic test is the ability to say the pledge of allegiance or the Lord’s Prayer without pauses). It is easier to reach a miles per day goal by keeping miles per hour low. The Southbound fastest known time, unsupported, was set at an average pace under 2.7 miles per hour (but many hours per day). If you are not trying to set a speed record you should be way, way slower than that. One of the things I really like about carrying a digital barometric altimeter on my wrist is the ability to set have it display the rate of climb and use that information to pace myself. At the start of a climb I zero it out and it starts counting off minutes and feet. (It reports rate of climb also, but mostly I just check the feet and the minutes since the last re-set to zero). I find a steady pace of about 10 feet of climb per minute is a good pace for me once I am a few days into a hike — others will chose more or less. Mostly I use it to make myself slow down – if I start climbing too fast I know I will tire too easily. If the pack is particularly heavy (lots of food) or early in the hike I want to stay well under the 10 feet per minute. If I find myself getting short of breath I know that I need to pay more attention to the pace — I’ll reset the altimeter interval register to zero and try to hike at a lower climb rate. Most digital barometric altimeters will allow this (check the owner manual for how to do it). GPS altimeters sometimes don’t do this as well as the barometric ones as they give more erratic elevation readings over short intervals. Suunto makes good digital barometric altimeters and the lowest-end ones work fine and are often less complicated than the more elaborate models.

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