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[pct-l] RE: Hiking in the snow.


>I'm typically a day-hiker and occasionally do some backpacking.  With
>the winter upon us here in the east (PA), I'm going to have to resort to
>another mode of transportation to get me into the backcountry.  I bought
>my first pair of snowshoes (Tubbs Aurora) and will be attempting to use
>them as soon as we have enough snow...only 3" so far.  Does anyone have
>experience with snowshoes and can advise me a little.  Just curious as
>to what to expect.  Thanks!

  Though I am primarily a skiier, I have a fair amount of experience with
snowshoes as well.  For the High Sierra section of the PCT, I bought a pair
of plastic snowshoes, not wanting to spend the money for regular shoes, and
they served me well.  However, this was spring snow, which has melted and
refrozen a lot and is therefore much more supportive than freshly fallen
snow.  I own a pair of traditional wooden snowshoes now which I use mostly
for doing work around the cabin, such as cutting firewood, which is very
impractical on skis.  These shoes differ from yours in that they are
somewhat larger, made of wood and neoprene and have a tail, which helps as a
kind of keel for this style of shoe. I have used the Tubbs for scrambling up
mountainsides in winter and for hard cross-country snowshoeing that involves
brush (such as Pennsylvania with only 3" of snow) or lots of vertical ups
and downs (on trail or otherwise), they are the best style of shoe to use.
You can go straight up by digging your toes into the slope and you can "ski"
them downhill once you develop a feel for it.  They are the best type of
shoe for traversing a slope as well, though in the end the binding will best
determine this - it should have good lateral stability, usually by hingeing
on a metal bar.  In deep snow (the cabin where I go is typically buried in
5-6 feet at New Year's and much deeper by March), this type of shoe will not
do so well and you will probably do a lot of post-holing with them, though
it would still beat going without.  On the PCT, one of the more irritating
(and therefore, entertaining) things was post-holing on shoeshoes in the
late afternoon snow: suddenly the snow would give way and I'd find myself in
a deep hole, up to my hips or deeper, with my snowshoes buried at the very
bottom; it would take quite an effort and a lengthy vocabulary of
appropriate cuss words to extract myself from the trap.  Deep snow is still
the terrain of traditional snowshoes or skis.
  You should use ski poles while snowshoeing (I didn't on the PCT but I had
a long ice axe) to help you balance, manuver and just for rhythm on the
trail.  If you do not have ski poles and wish to acquire some, look for a
long pole (up to your armpits) with a large basket for maximum floatation on
snow.  Even a simple hiking staff would help, especially if you are going
out overnight or more.  For boots, you might be able to use your summer
leathere hiking boots IF they have enough room for extra socks without
binding your feet.  Be sure to Snowseal (or whatever) them to keep out water
from snow.  Hiking boots have the advantage over most Sorel-type winter
boots in that they allow you dig your toes in when climbing, something most
winter boots can't do with their relatively smooth soles.  You will have to
be the judge of this, but base your decision primarily on warmth: better to
keep your toes than climb too many hills.  You will find that as long as you
are moving, snowshoeing will keep you very warm, possible too warm if you
overdress.  I have found that when I am snowshoeing in the forest, I can
dress fairly light with just long underwear covered COMPLETELY with a nylon
(or goretex) shell: its amazing how much snow is usually sitting on tree
branches just waiting to bury the unsuspecting snowshoer or skiier below.
Be sure to carry a warm (down?) jacket for breaks, something to eat and lots
of water to replace the fluids you will lose through sweat and breath.  I
always carry an extra pair or two of gloves/mittens just in case: I learned
the hard way once when my only gloves developed holes on a very cold windy
day and I was consequently "nipped" on several fingertips, luckily only skin
  I hope this helps.  Snowshoeing is a LOT of fun!


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