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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Backpacker Bible: Go Higher

Once you've been to the mountaintop, few other experiences will compare. For soul-cleansing, skill-building, life-affirming thrills, put a big one on your bucket list.

by: The Backpacker Editors

PAGE 1 2
(Photo by Kennan Harvey)
(Photo by Kennan Harvey)
Scarpa Mt. Blanc GTX (Courtesy Photo)
Scarpa Mt. Blanc GTX (Courtesy Photo)

Use Crampons
These spikes are your ticket to alpine travel in slick ice and snow, but they can also be your undoing if inexperience trips you up. This can happen to beginners who don’t adjust their footsteps to get all of the spikes in contact with the snow. Flex your ankle as needed to position your entire foot flat on the ground (above), and don’t move one foot until the other foot and your ice axe are secure.

Boot Up
Scarpa Mt. Blanc GTX
Testers at Climbing, our sister magazine, call this “the ultimate all-mountain boot.” A light layer of insulation keeps the 3mm-thick leather uppers warm enough for temps down to 0˚F (if you’re moving), a nylon gusset enhances flex for superior comfort, and heel and toe welts accept automatic crampons. $419; 4 lbs. (men’s 43);

Learn to Self-Belay
On steep snow, use an ice axe to prevent a slip from turning into a slide. With both feet secure, jam the axe’s spike and shaft straight down into the snow. Keep your uphill hand on the axe as you take a step. Remove the axe and repeat. Slipped? Keep one hand on the axe head and grab the shaft near the surface of the snow with the other, so your weight pulls against the securely buried shaft.

Thou Shalt Not: Step on the rope.

Not only can you trip up yourself and your partners, you might dangerously damage the rope. Don’t let slack develop between you and the climber ahead. 

PAGE 1 2

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Star Star Star
Mar 19, 2013

Going higher also means being aware of your limitations when it comes to vertigo. Last fall we did a 4 day backcountry trip in the Two Medicine section of Glacier NP in part using the Dawson-Pitamakan trail. Glorious trail but some members of our party were a bit freaked hiking 3 to 4 miles of side slope trail that dropped 2000 feet or so into the valley below. Mentally challenging to say the least.

Ditto on the Angles Landing hike in Zion and a host of others.

Any discussion on necessary skills needs to encompass pointers on how to deal with issues like vertigo when encouraging hikers to "Go Higher".

Sep 07, 2012

When I first started backpacking over 40 years ago I too thought that higher was better. But with age cones wisdom. Hiking further, faster, and higher is nothing but hiking against the odometer, the clock, and the altimeter. It's like "quantity" time with your kids over "quality" time. It's like speed reading War and Peace and remembering only that it was about Russia. I now realize that the most rewarding times I've spent in the wilderness were the ones that didn't take somewhere. They just took me.


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