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[pct-l] Re: i need a little advise.... again

Wendy et al:

>   ok here are my three questions. 
>1. any suggestions for buying a ice axe. i mean any good ones bad ones. my
>ice axe teacher  said i needed  at least a 70 cm but ray says small.  i lookd
>at the store and there are so many choices all with great info but which one.

  I should really keep info I have shared before but since that requires a
little forethought on my part, that simply will not happen...
  OK, this ice axe thing appears to be a common problem when planning for
THE BIG HIKE.  It is what separates the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest
adventures.  First, I am going to point out that they just had 8 feet of
snow in 1 storm last week at Lake Tahoe, so all you 1997 thru-hikers-to-be
better be paying attention.  When I hiked the trail, it was common knowledge
that the High Sierra would be the most challenging part of the entire trip
because you had to deal with the snow in the High Sierra; no one at that
point had realized you could simply wait until the snow melted (late June)
and if you hiked fast and light (ala Ray Jardine), you could still get to
Canada before being snowed in on that end.  Therefore, an ice axe was
considered ESSENTIAL, and NOBODY who went through the High Sierra (as
opposed to walking 395 thru Owens Valley) went without an ice axe that year.
Even if you follow Ray's time-tables, you will encounter some snow on the
north sides of the high passes, especially next summer.  Whether or not you
carry an ice axe for what may seem an almost trivial barrier will be your
decision, based on your experience and expectations of what you are capable
of doing.  However, it might just wreck your whole thru-hike (read Cindy
Ross's book on her PCT hike if you doubt me) and are you willing to risk that?
  Having said that, let me make a few recommendations (I am a very active
ice climber as well as a former thru-hiker, so I have had to deal with ice
tools from all angles, if you will forgive the pun).  I carried my ice axe
from Mexico to Canada; you will probably not want to do the same, though
mine came in very handy in Oregon and Washington too as there are a lot of
snowfields along the entire trail.  I planned it that way from the
beginning, though I had never touched an ice axe before in my life.  By
using the commonly accepted length of 65-70 centimeters, the axe is easily
used as a walking staff.  Since you indicated that you might be using hiking
poles on your hike, it would be foolish to have poles and ice axe all the
time.  DO NOT buy ice axes that are shorter than this UNLESS you are a very
short person or you want to be a technical ice climber (usually no confusion
here as good technical axes start at $200 and a non-technical axe can still
be found for $70).  Any good brand is OK for non-technical purposes, and
there are far too many brands to list (the hard-core ice climbers choice is
almost exclusively Charlet or Black Diamond).  Hopefully, you will get an
honest, knowing salesperson to help you, but it is hard to make a bad choice
at a good dealer.  The axe will be all-metal (stay away from the expensive
synthetic fiber handle ones) with the adze (the small wide "axe" part) and
the pick (narrow, long and thin; the part that will actually be used to keep
you from being food for passing vultures) will be 1 piece, not the multiple
interchangable parts that technical climbers love.  It should fit naturally
when holding the adze, just reaching the ground, very much like a cane (not
that I have any experience with a cane yet...); you will hold it the
opposite way (adze forward and pick facing back behind you) for self-arrest,
the term given to stopping your sliding fall down a snowfield.
  Next I would recommend that you take a short course in how to use it, if
possible.  I did not, but had read a lot and studied it so that when I came
to the first place (outside Wrightwood for me) where there was plenty of
snow and safe slopes to practice on, I did my homework there and felt
confident enough by the High Sierra.  THE book to read about ice axe
technique was and still is "Mountaineering: the Freedom of the Hills" by the
Seattle Mountaineers.  Some stores (REI for instance) will rent you an ice
axe to practice with before the trip.  Anything that will build your
confidence is your best plan.  
  Finally, about Ray, 2 things to remember.  Ray is a very extraordinary
athlete and person.  What worked for him (or me or anyone else for that
matter) may not work for you; Michael Jordan might have some great ideas to
improve my basketball game (anything would help) but they might not work for
me.  Because of Ray's previous experiences, he had a good idea what to
expect in the High Sierra; I had no idea and therefore did what I thought
was right to prepare myself.  Secondly, even Ray was full of doubt (at
least, he says he was) on his and Jenny's first hike of the PCT and they did
not fully develop their current recommended style until they completed their
first hike.
  If it is any help to you, here is how things went for me.  Half a day out
of Weldon, we hit deep spring snow (May 17, 1975) and did not leave it until
well past Tahoe the last week of June.  Of course, there were many miles
without snow whenever we got low enough in altitude, but generally speaking,
we were on snow 3/4 of the time.  Now the PCT follows a different, lower way
to Kennedy Meadows than the way we went, so part of my info does not apply.
I carried 20 days of food with me to reach Mammoth Lakes, a terrible load I
wouldn't wish on an enemy, but arrived there with nothing as I shared my
food with one of my companions who was running short.  It took us 18 days,
averaging 14 miles a day, doing most of our mileage in morning and evening
to avoid the mid-day mush.  I carried snowshoes, as did everyone who made it
except my buddy who skiied the whole way (very impressive I might add).  We
went to Mammoth because Tuolumne Meadows would not be open yet when we
passed through; as it turned out, we arrived in Tuolumne the day the
store/PO opened, only because we took a few days off in Mammoth.  I dumped
my snowshoes at Mammoth, finding that for the remaining weeks of snow that
it was much more consolidated and by traveling in the morning when still
frozen.  Some people got rid of their ice axes at Mammoth too, but that was
premature for us, and they wished later they hadn't done so.  Just for fun,
it snowed on me at Campo, my first day (April 17), a big storm at Kennedy
Meadows (slept in the cabin as the door was unlocked) then perfect weather
all the way to Donner Pass, where it snowed on the first day of summer, the
solstice (of course, we made lots of jokes about eating each other and what
happened to summer and all that).  Finally, snow got me one more time at Mt.
Ranier NP.
  You may have much better weather than I (or worse).  You certainly have
more choices than I, though I don't know if that is a good thing or not.  I
hope other thru-hikers will share their experiences with you about this ice
axe thing.  It could be totally unnecessary, and might be worth waiting
until spring to get a better idea, though most the snow I had to deal with
arrived in March and April.  Though I would love to take the credit for
being an totally awesome dude who could plow through any trail conditions,
the truth is that I had some companions (2) who were equally scared but
determined to get through, and lacking that, I do not believe I would have
made it to Mammoth.  After you have made all the preparations you can to
improve your chances, you might well find that joining a group through that
section is what will get you through.


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