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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)

Master the Self-Arrest
» While walking, hold the axe head with the adze forward and the pick facing back. This lets you shift directly into a self-arrest without changing your hand position.
» If you fall, quickly maneuver out of these incorrect positions. A) Head uphill, on your back: Roll toward the pick and flip yourself over. Do not roll toward the spike, which can catch and cartwheel you.
B) Head downhill, facedown: Reach forward (downhill) and to the side. Your pick should be at a 45-degree angle from your head, so you don’t slide into your axe. Plant the pick, and it will serve as a pivot so you can swing your legs around and get them downhill. Now you’re in self-arrest position. C) Head downhill, on your back: Raise your torso, like you’re doing a sit-up, and plant the pick near your thigh. Again, use it like a pivot. Swing your legs downhill while rolling your chest toward the pick to get into the correct position over the axe.
» In self-arrest position, you’re facing the snow, head uphill. Hold the axe diagonally across your chest—one hand on the head, the other low on the shaft—with the pick oriented toward the snow and the adze in the gap formed by your neck and shoulder. Use your weight to drive the pick in. Keep your head down, facing the snow, and the shaft close to your chest to achieve maximum force.
» If you’re wearing crampons and sliding fast, avoid catching a spike, which can spin you. Once you’ve slowed in self-arrest position, kick crampons in aggressively, digging secure “buckets.”

Promise Land: Bucket List Trips

The Starter
Mt. Shasta

The class 3 route up Avalanche Gulch delivers big-mountain terrain without crevasse danger—perfect for novices with basic crampon and ice-axe skills. Best plan: Camp at Helen Lake, a plateau above 10,000 feet, and climb to the 14,162-foot summit early in the morning, before snow softens. Target May to July for low avalanche risk, before rock fall becomes a serious hazard. Contact (530) 926-4511

The Classic
Mt. Rainier

Nothing in the Lower 48 compares to this 14,411-foot massif. It has 25 glaciers, vertical relief of more than 12,000 feet, and is so accessible you can scale it in a weekend. Best plan: Go in July for long days, reliably sunny weather, and the year’s most stable snowpack. Graduated from the Cleaver? Try the Emmons (hard) or Kautz (harder) Glacier routes. Contact nps.gov/mora Trip ID 616829

The Epic
Gannett Peak

Wyoming’s highpoint is the most remote in the Lower 48—just reaching it entails a superb wilderness adventure. Approach from the west for a 40-miler from Elkhart Park to Titcomb Basin and over Dinwoody Pass. The ascent up the Gooseneck Route is straightforward in good conditions (midsummer is usually ideal), but snow-travel skills are required. Contact (307) 367-4326 Trip ID 1379409 


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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star
NH-Hiker
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".

nogods
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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