View Full Version : Ice Axe - JMT

05-26-2009, 11:33
We have a permit for June 16th leaving Yosemite into Lyell Canyon to start the JMT.

Do we need Ice Axes? Everything I have read about thru hikers on the PCT during this time says we do, but I wanted to get some of your opinions.


05-26-2009, 12:03
We have a permit for June 16th leaving Yosemite into Lyell Canyon to start the JMT.

Do we need Ice Axes? Everything I have read about thru hikers on the PCT during this time says we do, but I wanted to get some of your opinions.


This year's snow is disappearing faster than last year (warmest spring on record), and there wasn't that much to begin with (80% normal at peak in late March).

If you bring hiking poles, you can probably leave the ice axe behind. An ice axe without crampons isn't very useful anyway unless you are experienced with self-arrest and have practiced it. Not slipping is much more important and poles help a lot with that.

The north side of the southern passes, especially Glen Pass, are the more dangerous spots. Starting in Yosemite, there won't be much snow left by the time you get there. Ideally, avoid crossing snow fields in the morning when the snow may be frozen from the night temps. Even though afternoon snow is soggy and wet, it is much safer to walk on.

Also, by the time you get to these snow fields, the PCT crowd will have created paths on the remaining snow, so you don't have to create steps. These paths ice over in many places at night, so again - caution in the mornings - take your time if your camp is high and you have snow ahead of you.

First snow you will have to cross may be at Donohue pass - almost a flat snow field on the north side. South you can bypass them all.

Next snow may be a tiny patch on Silver - bypass possible.

Selden has some snow at times - could be icy on the south side as it is very protected from the sun.

Muir north approach may have snow patches, easily bypassed. On the descent there are two or three fields you may have to cross.

Mather pass doesn't have much snow in the north, and the south wall clears early in the season. If there is snow on these switchbacks you need to be very careful.

Pinchot - don't remember seeing any significant snow there ever, even in high snow years.

Glen may have a few steep snow fields in the north - caution.

Forester - big low angle snow fields in the north below the pass, nothign to worry about. At the pass and down the south side I've never had snow, but then I wasn't there in very early season. Snow was gone in the south when there were still significant snow fields in the north. You could ask folks coming from the south before you get there. Junction pass is an alternate to Forester if there's significant snow on the south side of Forester.

On Whitney there's less than normal snow left on the main trail, with only one section at "the cables" being iffy this weekend.

These guys were seen there this weekend making it up on tennis shoes with virtually no gear...


05-26-2009, 12:12
Like a lot of safety gear, you won't need an ice axe right up until the moment you do, and then you'll really need it.

An awful lot of people get by without them. I needed mine last year on the South side of Mather, and was glad to have it (and not have it attached to the back of my pack).

05-26-2009, 13:10
Excellent Post above my Helmuth Fishmonger!

I think it comes down to how much experience you have in snow travel.

Personally, i can self arrest somewhat with a stick, pole, and even already done it with 2 pointy rocks. But for the really hard, icelike snow that you find first thing in the mornings, an ice ax is best.

With the ice ax, first of all, when traversing, you should jam it deep in your uphill hand with every other step. If you do THAT correctly, there's a good chance it will save you from a slip just by holding on to the ice ax.

If you do fall and are speedily sliding down a mountain, out of control, Do you have enough experience with one to stop yourself via self arrest? (from any position?)
IF not, perhaps you should practice before you get to the dangerous spots.

05-26-2009, 15:48
I do not think that you will need an ax, I am not taking one. I would suggest buying a pair of Kahtoola micro-spikes (http://www.kahtoola.com/microspikes.html). They are only about $60 and weigh very little. Check REI too for a pair. I have used them many times and they work great, even on steep icy terrain. I am leaving to start the JMT June 8th and plan on hitting all the snow fields and passes early in the mornings so I can walk ON the hard snow. I would rather walk ON the snow instead of postholing all day. I also plan on glissading down where I can. Get up really early, put it in 2 heel drive and kick ass.

05-26-2009, 15:58
What worked for me was allowing Ma Nature to do the work and go over the passes in late morning/early afternoon. Slushy snow!

I am also a fairly experienced snow traveler so YMMV.

05-26-2009, 16:00

large image of what somebody saw from Whitney summit looking northwest on 5-24 towards Forester Pass (the pass is left of center, below the dark pointy peak in the far distance)

looks like plenty of snow still, but you'll get there a month later, and it really isn't that much snow in terms of depth. I bet in 2 weeks there's less than half as much white stuff to look at.