View Full Version : Ice axe this year?

03-11-2009, 23:23
What up guys,

Any word on the snowpack in the sierra this year? I'm trying to decide if I really need to bring along the ice axe. I-know-I-know you're supposed to take one, but I do have a good bit of experience with apline hiking, and there's definately a meaningful distinction to be made between "ice-axe" snowpack and "non-ice-axe" snowpack. I'm no daredevil, and I want to be well and responsibly equipped, but I also don't want to carry useless snow equipment if the conditions don't call for any extra tools.

What, really, is the snow like in the sierra? Is it "big" coverage (like, whole valleys totally coated), or is it just little fields in the last couple hundred feet under the high passes? Last summer I had to leave my axe in Europe because the airport security hassled me over it, and I'm trying to figure out if it's worth the $100 for a new one!


Jim Adams
03-11-2009, 23:27
Wait until you get to the Anderson's and get an accurate report....if you need one then order it and have it sent to one of your mail drops.


03-12-2009, 00:30
It depends on the rest of the winter and spring and on when you get there. The typical pass traverse was maybe three miles of snow for me. I went in a pretty average year, on the early side, and found the ice axe was the best latrine tool ever and that's about it. I mailed it home first chance I got. Timing is everything on the pass climbs. Climb the south side after first sun hit and it's soft enough to kick steps. Get down the other side before it gets so soft you posthole. The passes are about a day's hike apart so that works well. If you're comfortable on moderately steep snow with very little serious exposure and mostly good runouts, you don't need an ice axe (or crampons). My wife kept hers until there was not even a hint of snow. She really liked the security of solid belays. I liked a trekking pole for balance in the sun cups.

03-12-2009, 01:02
I did the Garlic method myself - let Ma Nature do the work.

Every year is different, but I found the snow to be soft one the sun hit - eliminating the need for an ice axe. As with Garlic, I am comfortable in snow conditions as well.

If you start post-ADZPCTKO, in a typical snow year the snow will have been gone even more so than the typical PCT hiker. In the "If I did it again" category, I'd probably have started the PCT a week or so after I started...

(Again, every year is different. My advice is for a typical year)

03-12-2009, 02:36
I got to be pretty good at self arresting with a trekking pole.
Had too "combat" saves that way already.

also had one going up the back side of Whitney with my ice ax (on ice) on my PCT thru in '96.

So far, i believe it's been a low snow year but that could change suddenly of course.
I'd wait and see. (and maybe find a place to practice with a trekking pole IF you carry one)

03-12-2009, 09:22
Hmm, thanks for the tips. I am starting quite late - May 27 (college..!). My guess is that I'll probably get one.

03-12-2009, 10:25
What up guys,

What, really, is the snow like in the sierra? Is it "big" coverage (like, whole


03-12-2009, 10:30
and for a realtime look at the snow up high, the webcam at Mt. Whitney gives you a rough idea about how the snowpack is shrinking or growing


bascially, at this point in time it is too early to forecast what the conditions will be in June - last year the dryest spring in record chewed up snow pretty quickly, however, it was still FAR more snow up there even in mid July than I recall from low snow years like '88 and '89 when in late June there was maybe 1 or two tiny snow fields on the John Muir Trail to cross. And a month earlier or later makes a huge difference, too. Last year in late June, snow covered the JMT between Wanda lake and Helen Lake across Muir Pass, while in mid July, there was only one snowfield for about 300 feet to cross.

03-12-2009, 12:02
If you are talking about hiking th PCT starting May 27 in Campo if you are at all comfortable w/ walking on snow you will be OK by the time you get to the Sierras(Kennedy Meadows) around early July possibly very late June. Keep the ice axe at the ready to be mailed just in case. But, if you are hiking the PCT NOBO steady all the way from Campo starting when you say I'll bet that you will not need it. BTW, you may experience snow and ice before reaching the Sierras at San Jacinto and Baden-Powell.

Spirit Walker
03-12-2009, 12:35
Starting that late I would be surprised if you run into any snow. If so, the passes are likely to have deep trenches from previous hikers. I wouldn't bother with an ice axe.

When we hiked in 2000 we were ahead of the pack and I was very happy to have an ice axe. Several of the people around us self-arrested. I didn't, because I walk carefully digging the point in with every step. But we were a week ahead of the pack. Those who were a week or more behind us had very little problem. Even for us, the snow was less of a problem than snow melt. Again, those who were a week behind had no problem. It's all in the timing.

neighbor dave
03-12-2009, 13:07

select physical element top left corner then redraw map

neighbor dave
03-12-2009, 13:08
p.s. hit "snow depth"

03-13-2009, 09:55
To be honest, if you don't know how to use an ice axe and are not going to devote a day or so to learning, then I wouldn't bother bringing one. Take your chances with your poles and you will probably be alright. If you go into the Sierra not knowing how to use it and not having practiced with it, you are unlikely to take it off your pack and if you need it, you wouldn't be able to use it correctly anyways. It would probably just stab you in the belly.

Personally, though, I would bring one. But I have three, and the one I'd take weighs about 8 oz, so there isn't much reason not to bring one. I use an ice axe all the time in WA. Probably 40% of the people in 2003 didn't have one and the percentage is probably higher now.

03-13-2009, 15:11

Ya I have plenty of experience with technical stuff, some of it, shall we say, unnervingly acquired. In the past I've noticed that sometimes I spend 5 hours a day in snow and never feel like I need the axe, and other times I spend 20 minutes on a little field and feel incredibly relieved that I have the extra traction/safety netting in case of a slip.

But, since I'm going so late, I think I'll probably hold off on buying one. I'll keep an eye on things between Campo and KM, and if it looks like I really need one I'll get my parents to maildrop me one before I head up into the mountains.


03-13-2009, 19:31
Let the numbers do the talking (bottom graph). Also, consider what time of the year you will be leaving Kennedy Meadows.