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  • Winter travel efficiency

    I always try to use gear that allows me to travel efficiently so that I can hike longer, faster and safer. So I was curious how different pieces of equipment compare for snow travel under various conditions. And it's always useful to know beforehand what I can do with each tool to better plan a hike and contingencies.

    There are some trails and fields near my house so I ran some tests trying to keep my usual constant comfortable hiking effort. The trails are mostly rolling hills, similar to the Van Ho trail to Marcy Dam only with less amplitude (10-20 feet). The trail I tested on was well packed 0.5 miles long ending in a flat unbroken field on which I continued for 0.5 miles at which point I turned around. The field's snowpack was composed of 6-12 inch powder on top with a crust layer underneath and 6-12 inch of snow under the crust.

    I did it 4 times. Barebooting, with 4.5 pounds 8x26 snowshoes, 2.5 pounds 7x21 snowshoes and with 5.5 pounds 4x40 skiboards with snowshoes bindings and skins (contraption picture https://www.dropbox.com/s/o3vq868hwa...82125.jpg?dl=0)

    Packed trail results

    Barebooting, 8x26 and 7x21 snowshoes: 20.5 minutes per mile
    Skiboards: 17.5 minutes per mile

    Unbroken field results

    Postholing through the crust: 34 minutes per mile
    8x26 snowshoes: 27 minutes per mile
    7x21 snowshoes and skiboards: 25 minutes per mile

    I was surprised a bit the packed trail results. I expected to be faster barebooting but I realized it was due to slippage. I should have tried with microspikes to compare. The skiboards were surprisingly easy to work with.

    I was also surprised the bigger snowshoes were slower in the field. I would postulate this was due to the relatively low dept of powder above the crust for the bigger shoes to make a difference. I never broke through with either snowshoes, but the bigger shoes weight more, loaded more powder due to surface at each step and dragged more than the 7x21. The skiboards dragged much less than either snowshoes and never broke through the crust either. The only issue is the heel lift angle is currently limited (~20-25 degrees) due to the lack of a hinge as the snowshoe binding is directly mounted and any heel lift comes from binding and boot flex, which I know would eventually break, but is good enough to experiment with

    So, what works for you under which conditions?

  • #2
    Hard-pack
    Microspikes/Trail Crampons on hard-packed trails allow me to move faster than with snowshoes and with far less fatigue in the lower-leg muscles (kind of obvious because snowshoes impose forces on your feet that one doesn't normally encounter ... same for crampons).

    Post-holing
    ​The only time I made deep post-holes was in late November in 1980. I had just bought Sherpa snowshoes but the trip's organizer said we wouldn't need them (we were two groups that planned to rendezvous at Four Corners). He was spectacularly wrong. Our group of three didn't make it to the summit of Colden. We were wallowing thigh-deep in snow and I was done. Notwithstanding today's DEC snowshoe regulation, post-holing is a profoundly taxing way to travel and, from personal experience, a source of UNNECESSARY HARDSHIP. We three descended to Feldspar Lean-to, camped, and then hiked over Marcy, via Lake Tear, the following day. Fortunately, we had crampons and they were needed on Marcy's icy southern face. Meanwhile the organizer's group didn't make it past Indian Falls because (he claimed) one person developed hypothermia. So it goes. Post-holing sucks on many levels.

    ​Fresh snow
    ​I haven't tried a broad range of snowshoe lengths other than the tails for my MSR Evo's. I used them once and noticed a slight improvement in flotation on 6"-8" deep untracked snow. However, I also noticed they felt a bit odd, like "tail heavy". Best exaggerated example is to imagine having your feet attached to skis with bindings that are well forward of where they ought to be. Your weight isn't being distributed properly. Over the course of two winter rounds, I think I brought the tail extenders twice.

    ​I have experienced only one epic winter trip (up Wright and Algonquin) involving 2 feet of freshly fallen snow. It was the most exhausting hiking I had ever done and there were three of us breaking trail. The best part of it was meeting Boghollow because we went on to hike many other peaks together (still so very sorry I couldn't join him for his winter finish). All three of us wore what Kev would call "snow squooshers" but I have my doubts that longer snowshoes would've made the task noticeably easier. The leader gets the brunt of it and the slopes feel like swimming uphill. Knee-deep snow is a game changer.

    Looking for Views!

    Comment


    • #3
      All I know is, with my 23" MSR lightning ascents, last Friday, the 0.3 mi totally unbroken herd path to Cliff from the jxn with Redfield was EXHAUSTING. It was just my wife and I, and she is pretty small, so I led the breaking to the base of the cliffs. And that was it. I'm a bit of a clydesdale admittedly, but the snow was waist to chest deep (I'm not tall, 5'7"), and though there was no difficulty in following the HP, burrowing under blowdowns, and then the depth of the snow just had me knackered (could also have been the length of the hike in from the LOJ added). Post mortem, I keep thinking about how I could have done things better, to have more energy for the cliffs. I am convinced that energy was the issue. I'm sure we could have gotten up that last 400ft if it hadn't taken so long to get to the final difficulties. I probably didn't fuel optimally during all the breaking. Not sure bigger shoes would have helped. I am SURE that if we would have reconfigured the packs at the Uphill leanto and left my big bag there and only taken necessities, that could have helped. But in any case, it was still a grand day of snow and wind in the pass and lakes. So, no complaints. And I hoped that someone was able to take advantage of our work. From the looks of the beginning of the Redfield HP, I was thinking that the snow didn't look so bad, couple feet. But it rapidly got SO much deeper heading towards Cliff. I kept telling myself that the low area just piled up more snow and that once we got over to the other side and started climbing Cliff, it would possible be less deep. Which seemed to be true. In any case, we were spent by that point. Sorry for the ramble, but Trail Boss's pic above had me recalling myself, up to my chest and expletive, expletive... delete. : )

      Comment


      • gebby
        gebby commented
        Editing a comment
        Have you thought about doing an overnight at the Uphill Lean To for Cliff(#46)?

      • BrownBear
        BrownBear commented
        Editing a comment
        I sure thought about it after ending up exhausted at that same LeanTo to fuel up for the hike out and just said... "if we were only staying here for the night... we could totally finish it off today, or tomorrow morning".

      • gebby
        gebby commented
        Editing a comment
        It's a thought! Honestly, when I did Cliff and Redfield I lamented not making that an overnight! It is a long walk in from either direction!

    • #4
      HaHa lotsa snow
      last few years people have forgotten how to break trail.
      theory vs reality
      ​first credentials: I broke trail to every winter 46 the BTW46 I don't say this to boast but a lot of people have theories but I speak from real life.
      ​first thing is your body must be in sport specific shape.
      Theory says being in good shape walking along on a trail will cut it
      ​Reality is that to break trail up hill for a long steep climb you have to be able to lift your foot with boot and snowshoe 2-3 foot off the ground and punch it forward.
      you have to be able to do this for a long time. You will be drenched in sweat. Your unconditioned hip flexors will SCREAM.
      BIGGER is not better small hard plastic with good long cleats are what is needed so you can kick in, stomp down and get bite so you don't slide backwards.
      ​PinPin who was 100 x 46 used MSR's and knew how to use them.
      ​You can't "paddle" with them and they will not float on the snow and transport you uphill.
      ​Some use poles to stabilize and push up. I HIGHLY recommend what is recommended in the mountaineering book " Freedom of the Hills "
      ​It's called self belay. You grip ice ax in both hands by the ax / pic with shaft pointing down and plunge in at chest height then kick kick both snowshoes and micro pause to let snow compact and use ice ax as a lever to pull up. repeat until you see nothing but sky.
      ​The last few years skittering about on micro's, hillsounds and packed trails has been nice but bring on the snow !!



      Comment


      • Johnnycakes
        Johnnycakes commented
        Editing a comment
        I agree strongly with MG on this one. I bought a second pair of longer snowshoes (28 inches) that I thought would be of tremendous help on those big snow days, and they were actually worse. The main reason was that the surface area of the decking in front of the binding was also greater on this larger shoe, which simply meant that more snow (and weight) collected on it, resulting in more effort as I pulled the shoe up high to kick in for the next step. While larger shoes may be helpful on flat to rolling terrain, the additional surface area is of little help on steep ascents because you can only kick the shoe in so far, which means that the remaining tail end of the shoe is just hanging in mid air or sitting on unconsolidated snow that just falls out from under you when you put the least amount of weight on it.

        To be fair, I can see the larger shoe being beneficial if it helps you stay on top of crust that has formed, but this is much more likely on flat to moderate terrain, and not the steep stuff.

    • #5
      Doesn't do any good when you're already caught in the stuff, I admit, but the MOST efficient way to travel through snow is --



      waiting for it to melt and coming back in the spring!
      ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6

      Comment


      • #6
        Originally posted by mastergrasshopper View Post
        HaHa lotsa snow
        last few years people have forgotten how to break trail.
        theory vs reality
        ​first credentials: I broke trail to every winter 46 the BTW46 I don't say this to boast but a lot of people have theories but I speak from real life.
        ​first thing is your body must be in sport specific shape.
        Theory says being in good shape walking along on a trail will cut it
        ​Reality is that to break trail up hill for a long steep climb you have to be able to lift your foot with boot and snowshoe 2-3 foot off the ground and punch it forward.
        you have to be able to do this for a long time. You will be drenched in sweat. Your unconditioned hip flexors will SCREAM.
        BIGGER is not better small hard plastic with good long cleats are what is needed so you can kick in, stomp down and get bite so you don't slide backwards.
        ​PinPin who was 100 x 46 used MSR's and knew how to use them.
        ​You can't "paddle" with them and they will not float on the snow and transport you uphill.
        ​Some use poles to stabilize and push up. I HIGHLY recommend what is recommended in the mountaineering book " Freedom of the Hills "
        ​It's called self belay. You grip ice ax in both hands by the ax / pic with shaft pointing down and plunge in at chest height then kick kick both snowshoes and micro pause to let snow compact and use ice ax as a lever to pull up. repeat until you see nothing but sky.
        ​The last few years skittering about on micro's, hillsounds and packed trails has been nice but bring on the snow !!


        MG you make me want to take up knitting. Actually you forgot backing down a difficult descent. Mount Mansfield on the Chin has been good for that. Use your poles or ice axe as an anchor and try to have eyes in your ...

        Toiling in obscurity in Maine and VT

        LBM

        Comment


        • #7
          Great pointers mastergrasshopper. Thanks! I bow down (in my mind at least) to all of those who came before there were droves of people doing this and who had to break all trails. Your point is timely as I tried out my new the smaller "hard plastic" MSRs with the beefier cleats on Allen on Sunday. They were working really well, I thought, for the blown in deep sections near the top. Kicking in was better with these. So, I can see your point, and I believe you about size. Have to try the ice axe method. Read about self belay in FOTH but thought it would be more appropriate for big hills out in CO.

          Comment


          • mastergrasshopper
            mastergrasshopper commented
            Editing a comment
            big hill = 3000 ft climb up Giant ridge trail the day after Valentines day infamous 3 ft plus dump.
            We called it the valentines day massacre. The Ausable parking was unplowed and I was shoveling myself a spot on side of road when 2 of the strongest climbers in the ADK's showed up. We joined forces and it took 3 of us rotating leads 7 hours up the ridge trail from Chapel pond. I can do Giant in the winter as a warm down day after Gathering in hour and 12 min.
            HaBaSa unbroken = big hill climbing and self belay technique very helpful.
            Dix Mt. from round pond from the slide base to top unbroken = big hill climbing (Took 2 days in waist deep snow and we camped at lean to )
            Day 1 was break trail to lean to and dump gear set up camp. break trail to within 1/4 mile of junction. retreat and go back in the morning to finish. I was solo with my 8 year old son. The 3rd day was super clear and cold so we went back up our nice broken trail for breakfast on the Beckhorn and watched the sun rise over Vermont.
            Anyways I'm the nutcase on the trail carrying and using my super light purple aluminum ice ax while others use their nice heavy steel ax's for weight training on their packs, while flailing 2 sticks around.

          • Yury
            Yury commented
            Editing a comment
            Mastergrasshopper, what ice axe model do you use?

          • Natlife
            Natlife commented
            Editing a comment
            If all you want to do is self belay you might want to save yourself some weight and money by making a snow picket with a round t-handle using a scrap aluminium angle and round tubing or even a wood dowel. You make small notches in the wings at the top and a hole in the ridge so you can solidly bolt the handle through.

            Or I'm guessing in a pinch one might unscrew the snow baskets and shorten their poles.

        • #8
          I remember that day well Taras.
          My first winter trail breaking, first time meeting you, & lots of back pats once on top.
          So glad you talked me out of going for Iroquois that day.

          Comment


          • #9
            Natlife this is very interesting. I wonder if you could repeat the testing on a steeper grade? I'm a snowshoe bigot! I might be able to add some of your information to this thread.

            Tom Rankin - 5444W "In the depths of Summer, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible Winter"

            Proud Member #0003 of ADKHP Foundation
            Volunteer Balsam Lake Mountain
            Past President Catskill 3500 Club
            CEO Views And Brews!

            Trail maintainer for the Dry Brook Ridge trail from Mill Brook Road to just past the Lean-to

            Comment


            • Natlife
              Natlife commented
              Editing a comment
              Define steeper. I live in mostly flatland country. There is a field nearby with a creek that has carved its bed down a few dozen feet at a 25-30 degrees angle. Maybe I can go up and down that slope a 5-10 times for each test. Yup, I'll do that for next round. I have a pair of 10x34 coming soon so I'll swap that for the 8x26 in the test.

          • #10
            http://www.adkhighpeaks.com/forums/f...xe-suggestions
            ​here is link to old thread about ice ax where I mention my Kong Alpinlite ax that I still use to this very day.

            ​As to Natlife ( mr. gear tweak ) most times I like gear tweaks and make something else work but in this case no so much
            ​Think pound something in side of cliff then not only hang off of it with full weight but brace against it and pull. Remember your life depends on this.
            My ax is less than a Lb and was made for this.

            Comment


            • Natlife
              Natlife commented
              Editing a comment
              Of course it wouldn't have a 20 years old CE seal. You seem to be running that thing hard, careful with metal fatigue

              Seriously though if you're self belaying in deep snow with an ice axe and your life depends on it we're obviously not hiking the same trails.

              The idea of self belaying that way in unbroken conditions is great though and I'll give it a shot soon.

            • mastergrasshopper
              mastergrasshopper commented
              Editing a comment
              my poor ax has seen some hard wear
              "life depend on it scenario" is solo up basin after hay. some very steep sections ( now one has work around another a ladder )
              but still some other steeps. Any one of them would be bad to take a short / tumble / slide down. a broken rib, arm, leg, mild concussion
              in single digit weather could be the start of a chain of life threatening events.
              most trails in ADKs have a few sections that are steep with ice under the snow. I watched a woman take quite a tumble on one of the ledges of Phelps.
              I was the first aid responder to her life threatening head injury, and it was an avoidable fall due to her lack of gear.

          • #11
            Believe it or not, I can kick-step with my 12x42 snowshoes, and I can place my knees up on a shelf ahead of the tips. My 10x36 Tubbs do not kick-step as well because their upturn angle is greater (30 degrees, as opposed to 20 for the 12x42?).

            I'm not understanding this self belay term. Belay means with rope, right? But this self belay doesn't involve rope, right? How about bringing a large hoe? :-) Or maybe a snow shovel? :-) Actually, seriously, what could be better than an aluminum snow shovel for leverage in snow, and occasionally using it as a snow shovel? And maybe you could use it as a sled on the way down.

            Next 3 foot snowfall, I'll give Giant a try with 12x42. Huge snowshoes will make a night and day difference, at times. Just ask the snowshoe hare and the deer. I could easily see a 3 to 1 ratio of time it takes, in certain conditions, if consistent conditions were to prevail for 3000 vertical. As steepness increases, advantage of huge snowshoes typically decreases, though. As snow depth increases, large snowshoe advantage increases. Mountains create complications with those 2 factors. Varying conditions complicate further. Speaking of varying hare.

            One time on Rusk in the Catskills, 2 years ago, I was using my huge ones, and it was only 8 to 10 inches of powder down low. I was following the track of a couple of guys. I was moving faster than them anyway, probably, but when I caught them, the conditions were 2 feet of snow with a crust at some point. They were sinking deeply, and my track did not help as I passed them. Small snowshoes can be pathetic. But there can be times where that crust can not even be strong enough for the huge ones. When that happens, you might put your weight on the snowshoe, and then it collapses. That is the worst for efficiency, so it all depends. Strength of crust can be the biggest difference maker in what snowshoe size to wear. All about conditions, and all details combined. Sometimes it is unclear. Sometimes it may not matter what size. Sometimes the person with the big snowshoe ratio will be completely annoying, because he/she makes it look easy, and doesn't even break the trail out. There is no greater reward.
            I might be kidding...

            Comment


          • #12
            Joe's example is of self arrest, what I'm talking about is described in FOTH and in this excerpt. It is to prevent a fall and even more importantly allow you to travel deep steep snow more efficiently which was original intent of this thread.
            http://tsbtopec.co.nz/resources/student/using_axe.pdf
            ​couldn't find youtube but will be glad to demonstrate.

            ​the planting of the ice ax shaft and then using to pull yourself up engages the upper body and even more important and energy saving is keeping you from slipping back for each hard won step upward.

            Comment


          • #13
            Newbie to the area and thread. Do many/any people use skis in the high peaks for winter? Or does navigating the long boards become too difficult and snowshoes are preferred. A group of three of us are making our second journey to the region Feb.3-5 and trying to best plan our gear.

            Comment


            • #14
              I can think of a few peaks where skis can be used for initial part of the route:
              - AMR Lake Road
              - Marcy Ski Trail
              - Sewards
              - Allen

              Then you need to switch to snowshoes/microspikes.

              Comment


              • JoeCedar
                JoeCedar commented
                Editing a comment
                Add Elk Lake road and trail to Slide Brook for the Dixes.

            • #15
              I guess I should have mentioned our planned route is Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois. Overnighting at the tent campsite on the way, near MacIntyer Falls.

              Comment

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