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[pct-l] PCT snow question

I received the following question in a private email. I'm answering it on 
the list because I think others will be interested.

>I am preparing to begin the PCT on May 1st, 2002, and
>have a question due to the heavy snow that the sierras
>are receiving this winter thus far.  I read your
>account of chopping ice steps in the sierras on the
>passes, and wondered if you were wearing only your
>running/trail shoes as you labored over the passes.
>do you recommend any other tools to carry besides an
>ice axe to prepare for snow/ice?

I wished I'd had snow shoes in the Sierra in May '01, and in a very heavy 
snow year you might run into similar conditions as late as early July.  Most 
years you won't run into that kind of snow after June 15th.

I recommend waiting until March to decide what kind of a snow year it is 
going to be. Look at the snow sensor information as the snowpack melts. By 
late March you can usually predict how fast the snowpack is going to melt.

I was wearing only running shoes and was fine except when postholing in 
rotten snow, but I had sunny days. That's the norm, but if it's cold and 
cloudy, the snow could be too hard to get decent traction in running shoes.

If you're not as comfortable with steep snow as I am, you might wish to have 
crampons (or instep crampons with boots) to increase your traction.  I find 
I can kick or cut steps even in fairly hard snow, and I know I can 
self-arrest with the ice axe if I fall.  You should definitely consider 
getting some ice axe training.  I did before my first PCT thruhike in '97. 
An ice axe doesn't do any good if you don't know how to use it.

Be careful out there. Remember that '99 thruhiker John Lowder died when he 
took a bad fall in the Sierra. (See archives for 15Jun99)

Flyin' Brian
Calendar Triple Crown '01

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