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[pct-l] For what its worth - Ice Axe

In response to:
Advice needed:
For a novice backpacker wanting to do the John Muir trail who has the
of a June trip or September trip, which is recommended. And will an ice
be needed for this section of the PCT?

There is no sure fire answer but later in the summer is better in terms
of leaving the Ice axe home.  My JMT trip in 97 was from 19 July to 10
August.  Our North to South route meant we were going up on the North
sides of the passes which have more snow (less sun).  We did not take
Ice axes and that was the right decision. In our case, we had to cross
several snow fields which ranged from 300 feet down to just a few feet,
the worst being on Mather Pass.  Some had steep angles and bad run outs
(rocks, several hundred feet exposure). We avoided early morning
crossings of snow and waited/timed our travel until the sun had warmed
the snow (10:00am) so it was soft rather than a hard frozen surface. 
Hard frozen is bad without crampons, soft is fine for cleated soles,
smoother soles are just plain slippery on firm snow.  The crossings were
not dangerous in my opinion because the risk of falling was quite low
(relatively secure footing), however, a fall would have been serious
without an axe for self arrest.  Steps were secure and could be "kicked"
where necessary.  I was the only one with mountaineering experience in
our party of four and where I felt secure due to experience, the others
were pretty freaked having not traversed steep angle snow with exposure
before.  Poles or a hiking staff help a lot for stability.  We made the
axe decision at the trailhead and mailed em home from Yosemite.  I would
be thinking ice axe in June and not in September unless a really early
winter storm hits.  I was back on Muir and Mather Pass as well as other
high areas September 3-14 and there was no snow on any trail.  Hope this
helps.  Jack

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