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[pct-l] Re: ice axe - risk - New Army Pass

We have crossed Forester Pass four times in the summer months, twice as
backpackers, twice with llama strings.  We have never encountered
dangerous conditions there.  We hike with hiking poles;  we stay on
trails and have never felt the need of an ice axe because we hike only
from mid-July to September. An account of our crossings:
August 12, 1994.  Slushy snow on the switchbacks on the north side were
inconvenient but deeply trod upon and posed no risk.  No cornice.  
July 31, 1996.  No snow or cornice on the south side.  Some large
snowfields, with alternate post holed trails around their edges, on
slightly sloped terrain on the north side.
August 17, 1999.  Hiking southbound with llamas, we used a small folding
shovel to soften up an icy snowfield that crossed the trail on the north
side, in a slightly sloped boulderfield.  The llamas were reluctant to
step on the hard sun-cupped surface but crossed it easily after we dug a
softer path for them.  No cornice, no snow on the south side. 
August 25, 2000.  Hiked southbound with llamas in a cold steady drizzle.
The wet rock was slick but there was no cornice and no snow anywhere.  A
trail crew had quit work for the day, leaving their tools in place. 
They were building those big steps that Joanne Lennox and her horse
dislike so much.  I slipped and fell three times on the wet rocks but
was not injured or endangered.  
This is why we hike when we do, when the weather is lovely and the risks
are low.  I have never seen Forester at the time when most through
hikers do.  I have no doubt it would be a terrifying place.  I get a
kick out of showing pictures of the south side to non-hikers. Even
without any snow on it, they can't believe it could be done.
On September 6, 1998, a high snow year, we were unable to descend New
Army Pass from the top, because of a big pile of snow on the trail that
the llamas would not pass. They cannot be persuaded to do anything they
consider suicidal.  We had attempted a Labor Day Weekend Loop from
Horseshoe Meadow, over Cottonwood Pass, and over New Army Pass back to
Horseshoe.  When the llamas wouldn't attempt the descent of New Army, we
had to turn back and retrace our steps over Cottonwood.  We might have
made it past the snow if we had a shovel, and that is when that item of
equipment was added to the list.  
We crossed New Army with llamas,without snow and without incident on
August 30, 2000.  
We have crossed Silver Pass three times in August (96, 97, and 2001) and
our most recent crossing is the first time we have seen that pass
without its massive cornice.  It was bare of snow in August last year. 
In 1996 we picked our way across the cornice, in 1997, with llamas, we
took the stock detour trail.  Most snow-filled passes have these.  Just
look around for hoofprints in the mud.  
If you find a pass trail in very good condition, you can bet that horses
rarely use it.  Such as Forester, Red Peak Pass and Post Peak Pass in
Marion Davison

Bighummel@aol.com wrote:
> Having done technical ice climbing in the High Sierras and on Mt. Rainier I
> WOULD NOT attempt to cross Forrester Pass (remember 13,200 feet!) without an
> ice axe before late August in ANY year.  Perhaps my limitations - fears -
> reservations are greater than yours, but I'd have to say, IMHO, you must be
> highly confident on steep ice with deathly exposure to make this statement.
> The ice cornice - wall at Forrester Pass in 1977, the lowest snowfall year of
> record, was several feet taller than I am, probably around 10 or more feet.
> Even if steps have been cut into the vertical ice, you have to figure out a
> secure way of climbing up, and consider the exposure of 300 to 400 feet below
> you should you fall.  AND you have to get your pack over also.
> I don't wish to scare anyone, however, don't make rash judgements about
> conditions or your capabilities without a complete understanding of what you
> MAY encounter . . . and conditions often change.
> Greg "Strider" Hummel
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