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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Escape Plan: Cross Summer Snow

How to safely traverse a small, seasonal snowfield.

by: Kristy Holland

Kicksteps (by Supercorn)
Kicksteps (by Supercorn)

Cross Summer Snow

>> Check slope runout.
Snow isn’t avy-prone on compacted summer slopes, so when judging chute safety, your potential sliding path should be your primary concern. Avoid traversing above long, steep, or dangerous runouts when hiking without crampons, an ice axe, or rope.
>> Find quality snow.
Summer snowpack is often very hard, tough to dig steps into. Look above and below the trail for softer snow. Tip: Beware areas near trees, streams, and rocks, which absorb heat and create dangerous holes.
>> Kick steps.
“Look for existing flats you can enhance,” suggests American Alpine Institute guide Kurt Hicks. For perfect steps, he suggests hitting the snow with the toe edge of your shoe in a slicing motion. Angle your foot so the platform is level, and continue kicking until it is wide enough to support more than half of your foot (see illo above). Take small steps, put most of your weight on your fore- foot, and maintain upright posture, which helps keep your shoe in contact with the snow. “Even if steps exist,” says Hicks, “you’ll have better traction if you kick into them.”

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Reader Rating: -


Jun 01, 2012

I find the bigger problem is when the crust breaks and you sink 2-3 feet down. One, it can strain a muscle or tendon as your heels tend to go deeper than your toes along with your other foot still being on top of the snowpack. Second, it can be difficult to get out like that.

May 04, 2012

If you have trekking poles take wrist straps off so it is quicker to slide down into an arrest position. Jab the tip of one or both poles into the snow while holding the pole right above the basket. Dont expect an immediate stop - you will slowly stop (or at worst slide into the rocks at the bottom at a slower speed).

Mar 03, 2012

Kick them steps or wear crampons


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