Traveling safely across snow is an essential skill for many hikers and climbers—even in the spring and early summer months. Use the following tips from author and mountaineering educator Mike Zawaski to travel more safety across snow fields in Washington—which can linger long into summer.
If you want to learn even more about kicking steps, crampons, ice-axes and hiking over snow, you can buy Zawaski's new book, Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow, from Mountaineers Press.
Snow travel: a good skill to add to your backpack
- A snowy pass can provide a significant and dangerous obstacle for the unprepared hiker traveling in the high country. Even if you don't aspire to climbing peaks, it is definitely worth your time to learn how to kick good steps and travel with an ice ax.
Hiking on snow can reduce your impact
- Having the confidence to travel on snow allows you reduce your impact by walking on snow instead of around it, a practice which can create additional trails and destroy vegetation.
Travel on firm snow reduces risk from avalanches
- Late spring and early summer can be a great time to climb snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard. Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For east-facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.
Look ahead to spot hazardous transition zones
- Common places where falls occur are transition zones. These are places where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique. Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.
How to kick steps in snow
- Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem. The two tips I commonly offer are to 1.) choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you're worried about falling) and 2.) not to tiptoe around when kicking hard-firm snow.
Old footsteps can be icy: you may be better kicking your own steps
- Beware of following an old set of footsteps across a snowy slope. These may be very icy, especially on a cold morning. If you are proficient kicking steps you are much more likely to find a better route or travel more safely across pre-existing steps.
Getting technical: crampons, ice axes and rope teams
- While ski poles or trekking poles may help you maintain balance while kicking steps across a slope, an ice ax is superior for helping you self-arrest if you fall. Self-arresting with ski poles is possible, but it is much more difficult and you will slide further than if you are using an ice ax.
Crampons: only to be used on firm snow and ice
- Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice. The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall.
To learn more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending on snow, check out Mike Zawaski's Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow.
On Saturday the hiking community lost one of its stalwart ambassadors. Don Hanson, owner and proprietor of Scottish Lakes High Camp, died when a tree dropped a giant load of snow on him while he was working outside the lodge.
Don is described by those who knew him as a "force of nature." At 65, he had more energy than most people half his age. He and his wife Chris, transformed the Scottish Lakes High Camp in the their 18 years of ownership, building and renovating several cabins, expanding the lodge, building and maintaining extensive new backcountry hiking, ski and snowshoe trails and much more. But what made High Camp such a unique and special place was the care and hospitality that guests enjoyed from their hosts during their stays. Don was always generous and gracious, becoming lifelong friends with many of his guests.
When not working on the High Camp, Don loved nothing more than an epic backpacking trip. Guidebook author Craig Romano fondly recalls many hiking adventures with Don and his wife. Don was along for several of Craig's research trips for his Backpacking Washington book, including marathon days of 20 plus miles hiking to Chiwaukum Lakes and traversing The Enchantments. It's safe to say that there are few people who knew the east side of the Alpines Lakes Wilderness like Don did.
A Celebration of Don's Life will be held at 3pm this Thursday, March 7th, at Festhalle in Leavenworth. Details can be found on the Scottish Lakes High Camp website.
All of us at Washington Trails Association sends our sincerest condolences to Don's family.
Last Friday was a big day in Olympia. The first big legislative deadline passed, on which date bills had to make it out of their committee of origin or be consigned to reintroduction next legislative session.
A number of bills touching on the Discover Pass were introduced this session. Some of them are still kicking, some could come back in another form and others will not reemerge until session is over. The legislature will now start talking seriously about the biennial budget. This is where the real action starts, and we're already seeing some movement to fund State Parks at $27 million - in line with the request WTA made at Lobby Day on February 7. Everyone who attended Lobby Day should give themselves a vigorous pat on the back!
Here's the rundown with a little editorializing on each bill that effects hikers.
Living, breathing bills
- SB 5084: Creates a $5 lifetime disability Discover Pass and has been referred to Ways and Means. While WTA is sensitive to the importance of access to state lands for disabled people, the legislature must reckon with the cost of providing reduced-price passes.
- SB 5289: Ends the requirement that requires people driving on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Fish and Wildlife roads to display a Discover Pass. People parking at recreation facilities must still have a pass. It also allows agencies to sell Discover Passes in bulk at less than $30 per pass to retailers and partners. There is no mechanism to account for revenue lost from discounting, and WTA is concerned that this approach could result in lost potential revenue. SB 5289 is eligible for a Senate floor vote.
- SB 5097: Allows married couples to combine their volunteer hours for the purpose of earning a complimentary Discover Pass. The legislation has passed the Senate and been referred to the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee.
- SB 5391: Allows off-road vehicles (ORVs) bearing an ORV decal and operating in an ORV area to not carry a Discover Pass. The vehicle in which the ORV operator towed his or her ORV is still subject to the Discover Pass requirement. This legislation has been referred to Senate Ways and Means. While we have some concerns about the revenue impacts of this proposal, we understand that the requirement to carry two passes could be irksome to ORV operators.
- HB 1935: Matches each Discover Pass sold with an equal amount of general fund money. WTA enthusiastically supports this proposal, which also reimburses State Parks for the free or reduced-cost passes that the legislature has required them to provide. Finally, it allows State Parks license plate holders to access State Parks without a Discover Pass. HB 1935 has been referred to the Appropriations Committee in the House.
- SB 5513: This is a very complex piece of legislation that creates a legislative definition of a four-wheeled ATV, requires ATVs to have metal plates issued with ORV registration, and allows ORVs to be used on roads posted under 35 MPH in municipalities under 15,000 residents, unless prohibited by local ordinance. While the metal plate benefits law enforcement, the fact that local roads are open unless posted closed to ATVs should be reversed; towns should be able to choose on a case-by-case basis which roads they open up. This legislation has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee, but has not been heard. It has until tomorrow (Friday, March 1) to move out of Committee.
- SB 5653: This legislation expands the role of the State Parks Foundation and allows Washington State Parks to enter into public-private partnerships and, like HB 1935, dedicates $27 million to State Parks over the next biennium. However, this legislation includes the same bulk Discover Pass sales provision that we are concerned about in SB 5289. We clearly support the general fund appropriation element of this bill, but have concerns about the bulk sale provision. SB 5653 has been referred to Senate ways and Means.
Bills that are over, at least for now
- SB 5319: This bill would have provided a free Discover Pass to anyone with a lifetime veteran's disability pass issued by the state, and would have waived Discover Pass citations for anyone who could prove that they hold such a pass. While it received a hearing, it did not make it out of Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
- SB 5266: SB 5266 would have made purchasing the Discover Pass opt-out at the time of vehicle tab renewal, increasing the number of passes sold significantly. This legislation did not receive a hearing in its committee of origin.
- HB 1755: This is the companion bill to SB 5391. While SB 5391 received a hearing in time, HB 1755 did not.
- HB 1632: HB 1632 is the House companion bill to SB 5513. The latter legislation may still receive a vote in time, since it was introduced in Senate Transportation. The former did not.
The jury is still out
- SB 5657: This legislation creates a series Discover Pass exemptions, then mandates that the legislature reimburse the Discover Pass agencies for any free or reduced-cost passes they provide. It also sets up a 1-to-1 match of pass revenues with general fund appropriations. Finally, SB 5657 allows a State Parks license plate to substitute for a Discover Pass at State Parks. While this legislation did not move from its committee of origin by last Friday, it deals with amounts of money large enough to be considered necessary to implement the budget, so it still lives an uneasy half-life, and might become part of an eventual budget compromise.
There is still plenty of time to take out the winter gear—snowshoes, cross-country skis, winter jacket, snow pants and, of course, your camera. But before you head out, a few tips from photographer and Washington Trails magazine contributor Paul Raymaker can help take the chill out of capturing a winter wonderland-scape.
Choose the right gloves
While a pair of puffy, down-feather mittens may keep you warm on the mountain, they won’t be great for manipulating the buttons on your camera. Try a thin pair of running gloves or pipe gloves (a type of snowboarding glove) that you can use alone or as a glove liner. Some gloves, like OR’s Sensor gloves, have specialized material in the fingertips that lets you operate the touch screen of your camera or phone without taking them off.
Take extra hand warmers and batteries
Hand warmers might sound obvious for cold-weather hiking, but don’t forget to take an extra set along with an extra camera battery. Freezing temperatures will drastically reduce the life of your camera’s battery (as well as your smartphone or any other battery-powered device). Just activate the hand warmer and toss it in your pack with your gear to help keep your batteries warm—but be sure that it isn’t in direct contact with your electronics, to prevent overheating!
Beware of fog
After a long day of trudging through the snow, you and your camera gear will probably be pretty cold. When you get back indoors, hold off on immediately taking your camera out of your pack. If you do, the lens, viewfinder, LCD screen and the internals of your camera will fog up. This moisture can cause electronics to fail and fungus to grow in your lens. Needless to say, this is not good. Keeping the camera sealed in your bag for a few hours will allow the camera to warm up slowly, reducing the chance of internal fogging.
Share your photos
Grab a grub hoe and be the first to leave your mark on two new-for-WTA projects in parks, one near Maple Vally and the other north of Everett. Both are day trips working in small neighborhood parks, and both trails are in critical need of some shoveling and lopping and hoeing to make them accessible to local trail users. Read more about each of these project below to figure out which one to tackle this March!
Create new loop at Cedar Creek/Cedar Downs
Packed with mature forest and boggy wetlands, this little-known park just north of Maple Valley is one of the best-kept secrets of South King County. WTA worked here one day in 2012, but this year we'll really dig in with some new trail construction for two weeks this March.
If you've ever wanted to learn how to build a new trail, this is the perfect place to start. WTA will partner with the Middle Green River Coalition to build a short (less than a mile) loop trail that is more user-friendly than the current trails in the park. The hope is that this trail will bring more local hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers to the park. King County aims to eventually connect this trail to regional trails like the Soos Creek and Cedar River trails.
We'll be working at Cedar Creek the weeks of March 12-17 and March 19-24. >>Sign up for a work party at Cedar Creek one of these days.
Repair Kayak Point Bluff Trail
This little park north of Everett combines beach strolls with evergreen forest with views of picturesque Port Susan. If you live between Everett and Mount Vernon, this is a good distance for a day trip. WTA has been hankering to work more in Snohomish County, and this is the perfect opportunity to get involved on trails in this area.
The bluff trail that descends from the campgrounds at Kayak Point to the shoreline below has recently suffered a wash out, and WTA aims to fix this problem. Volunteers will help reroute the section of trail that slid out and do some upkeep around the slide. If you work on this project, you might get a chance to learn how to build steps or a culvert.
We'll work at Kayak Point the weeks of March 26-30 and April 2-6.
>>Sign up for a work party at Kayak Point one of these days.
Last week, WTA Executive Director Karen Daubert and board members Amy Csink and Jeff Chapman and I traveled to Washington, DC. Over three days, we met with both of our U.S. Senators, seven members of Washington's Congressional delegation, and key staff from the three remaining Congressional districts. We had an excellent reception at all the offices we visited and raised issues critical to the Washington's hikers. And while news is mixed out of DC, many members are hopeful that we can avoid the massive across-the-board cuts that all agencies will feel if Congress and the Administration do not cut a fiscal deal by March 1 that avoids sequestration.
Washington Trails Association's lead issues were fiscal in nature:
- Forest Service Appropriations: The last fiscal year saw a decline in a critical element of the Forest Service budget -- the Capital Maintenance of Trails (CMTL) program -- which is key to the continued development of new trails, maintenance of existing facilities and completion of backlog maintenance. We asked our delegation to support $560 million for that program, a slight increase over FY 2011 appropriations. Members supported that allocation, and we saw some movement in the direction of fighting for that amount.
- Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) Reauthorization: The legislation that authorizes the Forest Service to charge user fees such as the Northwest Forest Pass expires in December 2014. While fees are not the solution to Forest Service budget woes, they are an important element of paying for recreation on our public lands. We urged our delegation to support reauthorization and to work together to introduce more flexibility into the program, supporting measures that will ensure that the Forest Service can spend more money on actual trail maintenance. There is broad agreement within the Forest Service and the recreation community on the sorts of changes that need to be made to FLREA.
Last Wednesday, the state-by-state breakdown of the economic benefits of outdoor recreation. The new data add more detail to a report on the national economic impact of outdoor recreation that the association released last year. The short story is that the outdoor industry in Washington State is responsible for $22.5 billion in direct sales, $7.1 billion in wages and salaries, $1.6 billion in tax revenues and 226,000 jobs. All of that economic activity is dependent upon a healthy, well-managed system of trails and other recreation facilities on public lands.(OIA) released a
The picture this report paints is startling, but not unexpected. Some of the most successful outdoor retailers in the country are based here: REI, Outdoor Research, Marmot and the family of brands owned by Cascade Designs are all based in the Seattle area. And with three National Parks, a vast swathe of National Forest land, 120 State Parks and lovely Department of Natural Resources recreation areas, Washington attracts and keeps hikers like a magnet.
All of this recreation activity leads to jobs with both land management agencies and outdoor retailers, and tax revenues for gateway communities across the state. In a year when sequestration at the federal level and budget cuts at the state and local level might imperil recreation opportunities, it would behoove elected officials to take a long look at the benefits that all those hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, family campers and birdwatchers provide to the state and consider the consequences of slashing budgets for land management agencies.
The country's latest fiscal stand-off, known widely as "sequestration," is set to commence on March 1. Should Congress and President Obama fail to come to a fiscal agreement, one of the primary consequences would be five percent across-the-board budget cuts.from the National Park Service demonstrate the broad and adverse impacts that these cuts would cause, including more than $1.6 million in cuts from Washington's three national parks. Only two options avoid sequestration -- agreement around a solution to the problem or passage of a continuing resolution that maintains funding levels at current (or perhaps slightly lower) rates.
In a memo dated January 25, 2013, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis directed each park unit to make a sequestration plan that reduces its budget by five percent by February 11. New details from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees emerged today about what that would mean at some of the largest national parks, including Mount Rainier National Park.
In the meantime, the Park Service has instituted a hiring freeze. This comes at a time when hiring decisions are usually being made for seasonal staff who handle the massive influx of summer crowds. At some parks, it is possible that no seasonal staff would be hired should these cuts become mandatory.
What would a five percent mean for Washington’s three national parks?
- Mount Rainier National Park, would need to carve $604,000 from a $12.1 million budget. At minimum, this could include the closure of the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center this year.
- Olympic National Park would have to cut $639,000 from a $12.8 million budget.
- North Cascades National Park would face a $365,000 reduction from a 7.3 million budget.
Each of these parks rely heavily on seasonal personnel during the busy summer months. Eliminating these positions would have a serious effect on hours of operation, wilderness rangers, preservation, maintenance and much, much more. These cuts could also have a chilling effect on local economies.
The National Park Service also operates six other sites in Washington that would face five percent cuts: San Juan National Historic Preserve, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, Fort Vancouver and the Whitman Mission National Historic Sites and the Klondike Gold Rush Museum.
And, of course, these are examples from just one agency. Sequestration would impact the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies in similar ways, and we can assume that they are having similar discussions that have not been made public. Let’s hope that our elected officials come to their senses and come to a budget agreement before March 1.
Today, WTA is releasing its first ever State Of Access Report. Hikers have had roads on their radar since 2003, when major storms wiped out access to the Glacier Peak Wilderness and many other beloved places. But our public lands road system has been facing a slow-motion crisis since the decline of the timber industry. National Forests paid to build a huge system of roads, many of which are still used to access trailheads, with timber receipts. Those roads were frequently not built to the most sustainable standard, and have begun to crumble in the intervening years.
That's where the State Of Access Report enters the picture. WTA has created a framework for analyzing forest roads based on the importance of roads to hikers, the cost of repairing or rerouting and the environmental consequences of both repairing the road and its use by vehicles. We used those criteria to analyze eight roads:
- Suiattle River Road: Critical access to the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness that has been thoroughly studied and is ready for repair.
- Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road: A successful collaboration of land management agencies and the public to rehabilitate an important recreation area. A paving project should be completed by 2015.
- Carbon River Road: A dynamic landscape rendered road realignment unfeasible, making this road an ideal conversion to a hiker/biker trail to a wilderness campground.
- Dosewallips River Road: An important access road that should be reopened as new repair standards can offer access to the west side of the Olympics.
- Stehekin Road: A little-used mountain road that should not be repaired. Relocation would require realignment of the wilderness boundary, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Illabot River Road: A well-built road threatened by a lack of funding for maintenance that nevertheless should remain open.
- Mountain Loop Highway: A critical recreation access road requiring major repairs on a regular basis necessitates continued investment.
- Mitchell Peak Road: DNR should seek to take all reasonable steps to secure an easement for recreational travel.
Each of these roads exemplifies an issue or course of action that drives decision-making around recreation routes. For instance, Illabot illustrates the decisions that land managers are forced to make when they have too little money to manage their road systems. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road is an example of a successful collaborative approach between agencies and the public that has resulted in a more sustainable road and a safer backcountry experience.
A surprising road was the Dosewallips. When the criteria was applied to this route, we realized that agency planning processes since the 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had solved many of the problems that WTA had anticipated for the rerouted section of road. WTA decided that, in light of new information, to change its view on this road, and now believe that it should be reopened. At the time, we made the best determination we could with the information available to us. But we felt it was important to revisit the project and change our minds as new information became available.
Please take a moment to download a pdf of the State Of Access Report. It will give you a window into the often-difficult decision making process that we enter when we consider roads that are failing or washed out. It's our conviction that this document can help hikers make their own decisions and give them the tools to influence land managers and elected officials.
A long weekend in winter is the perfect time to get outside and stretch your legs. Wildflowers are still a month or two away, but stunning views, wildlife and your first camping adventures of the year can be found across the state this Presidents Day weekend. Check out our ideas below, or comb through recent Trip Reports for more inspiration.
Eastern Washington hiking
Umtanum Creek Canyon - 6-mile roundtrip
South of Ellensburg, this trail starts with a suspension bridge over the Yakima River and winds up a canyon. The creek is a big draw for wildlife, including a resident herd of big horn sheep. Keep your eyes on Umtanum Creek for beavers sign. The trail is pretty well-maintained for the first few miles but becomes brushy thereafter. It also crisscrosses the creek several times, so you may opt to turn back at this point plan your winter overnight here.
>>Hike Umtanum Creek Canyon
Northrup Canyon - 3-mile roundtrip Northrup Canyon is an excellent winter choice for a long weekend. Located in the Grand Coulee, you will delight in the silvery sagebrush, golden grasses and scarlet red osier. It's also a winter oasis for some 200 bald eagles. Throw in a picturesque canyon and a cool old cabin and you have a great little hike.
>>Hike Northrup Canyon
- Nearby camping and hikes: Steamboat Rock State Park isn't far from Northrup Canyon and features several great bonus hikes where you can explore the incredible geology of Ice Age floods. In the park, the Dune and Bay campgrounds are open on a first-come first-served basis during winter. Water at individual campsites is shut off in winter.
White Bluffs - North Slope - 4 mile roundtrip
It's too early to hope for wildflowers, but if the sun is shining, this Tri-Cities-area hike is the perfect place to find some solitude and birds. As you hike among the dunes and enjoy the beauty of big open skies, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife tracks in the sand.
>> Hike White Bluffs North Slope
Coastal and island-hopping hikes
Shi-Shi Beach and Point of the Arches - 8 mile roundtrip
There is something special about this hike down to Shi-Shi Beach and then on to the sea stacks in winter. Seasonal tides add a sense of adventure (and require a bit more caution). If you plan to overnight, there are some well-established campsites at Petroleum Creek, but be sure to camp well back from the beach itself; the tides often come all the way up to the bluff. All hikers and campers should carry tide tables to avoid untimely scrambles up the bluff and into the brush.
>> Hike Shi-Shi
- Nearby camping in Olympic National Park - If you want to spend more than a day exploring the Olympic coast, you can try for a spot at Kalaloch, Hoh and Mora campgrounds. Most campsites are first-come, first-served. (Note: leashed pets are permitted in campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots, but are not allowed on National Park trails.)
Fidalgo Head Loop - 4 miles roundtrip
Before or after you catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands from Anacordes, explore Fidalgo Head Loop, an easy hike in the city's Washington Park that can be done year-round, with spectacular wildlife viewing as well as panoramas of the San Juan Islands.
>>Hike Fidalgo Head Loop
Two classic snowshoes in national parks
Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park - 6 mile roundtrip
A favorite with snowshoers, and for good reason. This trail starts at the Paradise visitor center, following the Stevens Canyon Road - and if you're lucky enough to have a clear day, views of the mountain are stupendous. Depending on conditions, avalanche danger is moderate on the climb to the ridge, but otherwise low. Check out recent Trip Reports for an idea of what to expect.
>> Snowshoe Mazama Ridge
Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park - 6 mile roundtrip
If the weather cooperates, this snowshoe will show you the beauty of Olympic National Park in an entirely new light. This snowshoe can be a true wonderland with panoramic views, but depending on conditions, can have also feature moderate avalanche danger in places.
>> Snowshoe Hurricane Hill
Looking for some beginning snowshoe adventures? Try Artist Point, Gold Creek or one of these other great snowshoe trails.
Cross-country ski statewide
Methow Valley - The Methow Valley is a Mecca for Nordic skiers. The trail system is divided into four areas: the Methow Valley Community Trail system (30K), the Sun Mountain trail system (54K), the Mazama Trails (33K) and the Rendezvous Trails (48K). Catch the Tour of the Methow on February 16.
>> Visit mvsta.com for more information
Chelan-Leavenworth - The Echo Ridge Nordic area boasts more than 25 miles of groomed trails. The trail system is operated by the Chelan Ranger District with the Lake Chelan Nordic Ski Club; Sno-Park permits and NW Forest Passes are not honored here. Stop by the ski yurt on Saturdays in February for complimentary soup, thanks to the ski club.
>> Visit lakechelannordic.org for more information
Spokane - This trail system offers 23 miles of doubletrack with a skating deck. The ski club is offering a new series of Nordic ski lessons (both classic and skate), and will continue to host the popular Nordic Kids program.
>> Visit spokanenordic.org for more information
More ideas for the long weekend
- If you didn't see the hike for you above, check out these eleven great winter hikes featuring waterfalls, beach views, birds and more. >> Eleven great winter hikes
- Spend one, two or three days this weekend on trail. >> Join one of the work upcoming trail work parties.