Date Tags hiking / pct

A much better night's sleep--no howling wind, not nearly as cold (just below freezing), and a brilliant bright near-full-moon. I got plenty of sleep, nodding off at 7 and waking up at 6:30, and I needed it; some of my leg muscles just aren't used to snowshoeing.

Today's lessons, as it were, were how to use an ice ax to self-arrest. We headed off to a slope east of the campsite and practiced glissading... or sitting on your butt and sliding down the snow like you're a 4 year old kid. It's great fun, and brought back memories of sliding down the snow on Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand a year ago.

Once we got a feel for that, we started with some ice ax training. It's a scary looking implement, like it's designed to poke the eyes out of zombies, but I felt I needed to be confident with how to use it, and watching YouTube videos for training just wasn't going to cut it. YouTube will show you how to do it right, but won't show you the dozens of ways how to do it wrong and what's wrong about each one of them... and I'll probably do it one of those wrong ways without realizing it, so in-person training's important. Learning how to use an ice ax was the key reason why I wanted to take this class.

First off, sizing. Ice axes should be gripped with your thumb under the adze and your fingers across the top of the pick--pinky to the tip! You should grip the shaft with your other hand, with the shaft diagonally crossing your body, so the base of your thumb is on the top of your pelvic bone. The pick should be pointing out, the adze should be right about shoulder height. If the ax is sized right, you should have maybe 2 to 4 inches of shaft below the lower hand. At 120cm, my ax was properly sized for my torso.

Next up was the simple "roll over and stop" drill. Sliding fast, feet first, down the hill on your back, roll over and stop, remembering "GO TO THE PICK" If you're right handed, roll over on your right side (the pick is facing out on your right shoulder) and dig it in. Keep your elbows in, and the ax under you... pull yourself on top of the ax if it ends up above your head. When the pick bites, you'll stop. Don't roll over onto your knees, just keep stiff and log roll. It took me awhile to get. I rolled over the wrong way once. Another time my elbows were out. Yet another the ax got away from me uphill; I didn't lose it, but it wasn't decent.

Following that drill was the 'opposite hand' drill. Put the ice ax on your non-dominant hand, and arrest. That felt weird, but I got it more quickly.

Then there was the "head first" position. You're sliding downslope, head first, on your back. Just do the same and 'go to the pick.' I kinda liked this one, which sounds scarier than it is--when you roll over (on the side of your body where the pick is), the pick grabs, then your legs end up swinging around. Sometimes you can end up in a taco shape, but more often than not you end up more-or-less upright on the slope with your feet directly downslope.

And lastly was the "tumble". This reminded me of rugby tackle practice--don't be scared of the ground, just figure out how to go to ground. With the "tumble", you walk across the slope, ice ax in uphill hand as it should be, and then sink your downhill knee so you fall. Tumble over yourself, then arrest. Same drill, except when your tumbling you just think "where's the pick" and then "roll over on the pick side so the pick is digging into the slope". I got the hang of it after a bit; strangely this was the only drill where I'd get the ax on the slope, but the pick would lay across the slope instead of digging in. So I had to rotate the ax to dig in, throwing out my elbows. It didn't look great, but it worked.

There were a couple of other things we learned about that day--prior to the ice ax training, Ned dug a snow pit in the slope, a vertical box, to show us the snow layers and how to use your fingertips against the back wall of the pit to judge the snow layers--some were real soft and didn't stick together well, some were compacted by warmer temperatures and consolidated into hard ice layers. The snow we had today was about 2 inches of powder on top of a hard ice layer, with softer 6 inch layers underneath interrupted by ice layers. You could also use that snow pit to make a shelter out of the wind or snowfall if you needed an emergency survival shelter.

After the fun on the snow, we packed up and snowshoed back to the trailhead. My pack felt much lighter, though I know it had only dropped a few pounds and probably weighed only 38 pounds and not 40. It was easier going, and I switched to fluffier looser socks (Holeproof Explorer with the copper padding), and my feet were much warmer. Note to self: take a pair or two of these on the PCT.

Then a quick drive back to the trailhead, a cozy room at the Three Peaks Resort, and an unplanned dinner with a good buddy Dave at Basecamp Pizza. I knew Dave lived "in Tahoe", but for some reason I thought he lived miles away on the north side of the lake in Incline Village. He lives just a few miles away! It was good to catch up, and he offered some much-appreciated logistical support for when I walk through Tahoe on the PCT. I'll definitely take him up on that after Echo Lake, and perhaps before; it's a long 10 days from Yosemite to Tahoe without many good resupply points.

And finally a nice fluffy bed to fall asleep in... though the room is far too hot. Dialing it back to 56 degrees helps, heh. Tomorrow I'll be back in San Diego, where the weather will be sunny and 72 degrees, of course.


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