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Re: [John Muir Trail] Re: JMT "early season"

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  • ned@mountaineducation.org
    For all those who are entering the High Sierra early, (earlier than the average year) as you know already, there will be snow to walk over, suncups to try
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 19 8:34 PM
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      For all those who are entering the High Sierra "early," (earlier than the average year) as you know already, there will be snow to walk over, suncups to try not to slide into or posthole through, and high creek-crossings to deal with...carefully.
      This is what we teach at Mountain Education, the skills to give you safe passage, the knowledge of the tools and gear needed, and the supervised experience and to put it all together as General Mountain Safety. We often are found along the PCT/JMT in the months of April, May, and June teaching just this, so from this point of view...
      you should consider bringing for snow-related concerns the following:
      - tall, waterproof, breathable gaitors with vents
      - extra socks and gloves
      - traditional leather boots instead of trailrunners for predictable support when the going gets dangerous
      - two decent cam-locked poles with snow baskets
      - an ice axe for traverse anchors, self-belay, and self-arrest
      - a Black Diamond Whippet for use all the time when on snow (when it gets steep, trade for the axe)
      - Kahtoola Microspikes or KTS crampons for those crusty morning ascents/descents
      - durable Gore shell pants for glissading down passes (a simple piece of plastic/tarp to sit on requires two hands to hold as you slide down the steep hillside, so you can't hold your axe in the ready position or as a rudder--not safe)
      - decent eye protection like the Julbo Explorer to protect your eyes from reflected and direct rays off snow
      - decent headwear to shade your face and neck
      - decent sweat-resistant sunscreen in the SPF 40 range. Consider zinc oxide if your skin is sensitive.
      - decent lip balm, too, for the same reasons
      - skin cream for at night (really exposed, dry and sun-burned skin)
      - long pants instead of shorts when on snow (especially for postholing)
      - long-sleeved shirts to protect the arms from the sun (sun screen is fine, but slimy in the bag at night)
      - two-way radio communication when on large, long snow ascents/descents to stay in touch with those in your group who are in the rear
      - a rental satellite phone to call for help (we never leave home without it, Carl Malden!)
      - more food than on a normal, summer's hike since snow consumes so much more energy to walk over/fall into
      - more fuel to cook that food and warm up those who get cold (more hot drinks and lunch items)
      - a GPS to verify your relation to the trail when on snow in trees. Above timberline is line-of-sight navigation
      Simply carrying "Stuff" does not make you safer. Know why you have it, when to use it, and what to do with it quickly. Practice when you are first in the requisite conditions. Identify when to stop, slow down, or be careful.
      You do not have to cross a creek where the trail does! "STOP"=Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Do this when you first arrive at a nasty crossing. Drop the pack and walk the creek, have a bite to eat, and look for a safe, dry crossing. Only if you must, wade through with at least three points of contact and durable footwear to "feel" your way across (there may be "white-water" preventing you from seeing the rocks and boulders on the bottom of the creek).
      Time your ascents/descents of the Passes so that you walk on the harder, early-morning snow to get to the top, have lunch, and glissade down before the snow becomes so soft that you start post-holing, a dangerously jarring and potentially scarring to the legs experience.
      If you have any questions, please email us. We have been teaching all this for 29 years in the Sierra, so we have a few ideas on the subject. We will be out there this May, June, and July teaching Mountain Basic Skills, in case anyone is interested.

      "Just remember, Be Careful out there!"
      Ned Tibbits, Director
      Mountain Education
      1106A Ski Run Blvd
      South Lake Tahoe, Ca. 96150
          P: 888-996-8333
          F: 530-541-1456
          C: 530-721-1551
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