Crossing Icy Couloirs
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Ben Wald
(benwald) - F
Crossing Icy Couloirs on 05/22/2006 19:48:48 MDT Print View

For alpine trips that are expected to be free of snow and ice, what `just in case' gear do you bring for unexpected crossings of icy couloirs?

I sometimes encounter this situation in late summer in the PNW or Rockies after incorrectly guessing that all the snow and ice will have melted out. Usually the couloir is only a few yards wide, and I simply want to cross it rather than climb up the couloir.

At present I only carry an axe and chop steps, but my boots/rockboots give very little traction on hard, late-season ice. I generally don't have a rope for sub-5th-class routes.

Would there be much benefit to additionally carrying instep crampons or other lightweight traction devices? Or are they useless in this situation?

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
ice crossing on 05/22/2006 21:22:42 MDT Print View

my biggest fear when backpacking - i'll be bringing at least a pair of instep crampons for the shepherd pass ice slope this summer.

i hate the idea of the weight, but unless i can devise something else that will work well, i'm bringing them.

Ben Wald
(benwald) - F
Re: ice crossing on 05/24/2006 00:01:11 MDT Print View

Cary, backpackgeartest.org has a favorable review of the 4.5 oz Covell Enterprises Ice Walker Crampons. Judging from the review, they might be adequate for the traverse of shepherd's pass, and they're half the weight of other insteps.

Instep crampons generally work best for traversing. They're not much good for ascending or descending, because there are no spikes on the ball or heel of the foot. (Also, the crampons tend to slide off the foot when ascending/descending).

It's more difficult to figure out what to bring for traversing couloirs, because the conditions are so variable.

Edited by benwald on 05/24/2006 00:03:36 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: ice crossing on 06/01/2006 16:49:57 MDT Print View

Hi Cary,
I think you can save yourself some weight by avoiding the icy traverse entirely, if it's even a problem by August. When you come off those short, steep, cruddy switchbacks just below the traverse that exits the headwall and takes you over the pass, if it's icy scramble up the scree slope above you and then stroll back down to your left(south)150-200 yards to pick up the trail. If it's icy, you will see the footprints of others who have done the same. In 25+ years of going over Shepherd Pass, I have only encountered ice on the traverse 3-4 times and have always exited as described above. Shepherd Pass is strenuous enough without adding more weight to your pack.