With the wintry weather upon us snowshoes have become an indispensable piece of backcountry equipment. Without snowshoes (or their cousin the cross-country skis) the backcountry would be mostly off-limits to any adventures for nearly half of the year in the Adirondacks.
Snowshoes come in all different styles and materials (e.g. wood vs. aluminum). The industry has largely moved away from natural materials due to the light weight and durability of their artificial counterparts. Tubbs, Atlas or Redfeather are popular manufacturers but the leader in lightweight snowshoes is Northern Lites located in Wausau, Wisconsin. Northern who?” you might ask. » Continue Reading.
I was driving over Cascade Pass with a friend recently when we noticed all the cars parked near the trailhead to Cascade and Porter mountains, the two easiest of the 46 High Peaks.
Was there a party going on? There must have been hundreds of people climbing that peak on this warm Saturday in mid-March.
Then my friend hit upon it: it was the last day of winter. Anybody wanting to gain the honor of “Winter Forty-Sixer” needed to climb these peaks by the end of today, or have to wait another season. » Continue Reading.
You can see the Angel Slides from Marcy Dam: two adjoining bedrock scars—one wide, one thin—on the southeastern slopes of Wright Peak. They are a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers.
The slides got their nickname following the death of Toma Vracarich. Ten years ago this month, Vracarich and three other skiers were caught in an avalanche on the wider slide. Vracarich died under the snow. He was twenty-seven. The other skiers were injured.
It remains the only avalanche fatality in the Adirondacks, but it put people on notice that the avalanche risk here is real. Several years ago, I wrote an article on the history of Adirondack avalanches for the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. I came up with a list of fourteen. Most were triggered by skiers, snowshoers, or ice climbers, usually on steep, open terrain such as a cliff or a slide.
Here are some examples of what I found:
On March 8, 1975, three ice climbers suffered severe injuries when they were caught in an avalanche on a cliff near Chapel Pond. They would have fallen to the bottom if their rope did not get entangled in the rope of a party below them.
A week later, a snowshoer named Roger Harris was on a slide path on Macomb Mountain when an avalanche swept him five hundred feet. He was nearly buried alive. “I was unable to take in a breath due to the snow jammed in my throat and filling my mouth,” he told me, “but I was able to stick two fingers into my mouth and clear the plug.”
In April 1990, Mark Meschinelli, a veteran ice climber, was standing at the bottom of the North Face of Gothics when it avalanched. “I heard this low rumbling,hissing sound,” he said. “I looked up, and the whole face is moving toward me. There was nothing I could do, no place to go. I got buried up to my waist.” Meschinelli dug himself out and climbed the slope.
In March 1997, an avalanche swept two backcountry skiers down a steep slide on Mount Colden. They might have plummeted to the bottom if trees had not stopped their descent. The skiers were bruised but able to ski out.
Avalanches occur most often on slopes between 30 and 50 degrees, and many occur during or soon after a big snowfall. But the business of assessing the risk of an avalanche is complicated. You can find more information online from the American Avalanche Association as well as other websites.
And if you do spend time in avalanche terrain, you should carry the three essentials: beacon, probe, and shovel.
You might also take an avalanche-safety class. The Mountaineer in Keene Valley will teach avalanche safety at the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival in March. The Mountaineer also offers avalanche instruction at its Mountainfest each January.
Photo of Angel Slides on Wright Peak from Wikipedia.
The festival, which takes place January 15–17 (Martin Luther King Jr. weekend), is nearly sold out. The only seminars still open are an ice-climbing and slide-climbing course on Sunday and courses on avalanche safety.
However, those who love the mountains and are happy to appreciate them from a heated room should consider two events that weekend. At 8 p.m. Friday, January 15, world-famous mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer will give a slide show and lecture. Weihenmayer is the only blind climber to not only have summited Mt. Everest but also the highest peaks of all seven continents. Weihenmayer recently climbed The Naked Edge, a rock-climbing testpiece in Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon, rated a stiff 5.11. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 16, extreme mountaineer Steve House will also do a presentation. Considered one of the best alpinists in the world, the climber and author has made dozens of dicy ascents up high-altitude snow, ice and rock routes all over the world. He is known for free-soloing (no ropes or partners) massive faces with little gear. In 2005, in one of his greatest accomplishments, he and a partner completed a new route on the deadly, 13,500-foot-high Rupal Face, the most technical of the many dangerous faces of Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat (26,600).
House is also leading an ice-climbing seminar on Saturday but—sorry, kids—that one’s sold out.
The slide shows, $10 each, will be at the Keene Central School on Market Street in Keene Valley, off Route 73 (just follow the cars if you can’t find it). There’s also an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner at the nearby firehouse from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday. And you can demo climbing gear for no charge at Rock and River’s manmade ice wall, located at the end of Alstead Hill Lane, located on Route 73 just west of Keene. All events benefit local charities.
Winter is nearly upon the Adirondacks and it’s time to blow the dust off your cold-weather gear including your snowshoes. Snowshoeing has increased in popularity and practicality in stride with technology. Gone are the days when the only choice was hand woven wood frame shoes. The framing, decking, cleats (crampons) and bindings are now made with high tech materials specialized for various conditions and preferences. The first question becomes one of purpose. What environment will they be used for? Deep powder snow and packed trails are drastically different underfoot. Designs with increased length and width increase surface area and offer more stability and flotation in unpacked conditions. They are a bit less maneuverable, however, it tighter areas. They can also be used on packed trails in many instances. More compact models save weight and increase maneuverability when snow depth is minimal.
Specialized conditions sometimes require specialized shoes. Ascending to higher elevations via steep grades may require traverse through changing conditions: packed trail, unbroken powder, steep inclines with ice flows, summits with mixed conditions where, perhaps, crampons would be most valuable. Most models offer some crampons with varying degrees of aggressiveness for traction. MSR, for instance, offers a very specialized and maneuverable line of shoes that include aggressive crampons, metal “teeth” either around the circumference or in rows, a heel elevator to alleviate leg fatigue on inclines and an optional flotation tail to increase length and thus versatility across terrain.
No matter the environment, it’s also important to know which shoes perform best for your personal traits as well. Manufacturers usually have a weight chart to help choose between models or sizes of a particular model. Forums and product review sites can offer guidance on the positive and negative aspects of each.
As an aside, please remember that in the High Peaks Wilderness area, you “must possess and use skis or snowshoes when the terrain is snow-covered with eight or more inches of snow”. This helps reduce preventable rescues and protects both the wearer and other hikers alike.
The 13th Annual Adirondack International Mountainfest is scheduled for January 16-18, 2008 in Keene Valley. Local guides Chuck Boyd, Emilie Drinkwater, Jeremy Haas, Carl Heilman, Matt Horner, Don Mellor, Jim Pitarresi and Jesse Williams will be returning to offer clinics on snowshoeing, mountaineering, avalanche awareness and ice climbing (pre-register soon). Guest athletes include Conrad Anker (a key member of the search team which located the remains of George Mallory on Mount Everest), LP Ménard (who with fellow Quebecer Max Turgeon climbed a new route up Denali’s 8,000 foot South Face in just 58 hours in 2006), Janet Bergman (who has climbed in Peru, Argentina, Canada, China, Nepal, South Africa and around the US) and longtime climber and guide Jim Shimberg (who has guided throughout North America and the world, including trips to Iceland, Peru, Bulgaria, The Czech Republic, China, Scotland, Thailand and Canada. Jim has climbed in Alaska since 1987, with 7 expeditions to Denali, Mt Hunter, Mt Huntington, and more). According to the folks at the Mountaineer, who hosts the event:
Telluride Mountainfilm, one of the premier film festivals in the country, opens the Mountainfest on Friday night with a custom compilation of the best films from Mountainfilm’s 9-year history on tour, with a focus on ice climbing and mountaineering videos. This will be preceded by a short slide show by Olaf Sööt and Don Mellor about Alpine Americas, their new book of fantastic photographs and essays about “an odyssey along the crest of two continents.” Both authors will be available to sign books offered for sale before and after the Mountainfilm on Tour presentation. Friday evening’s festivities begin at 8pm at Keene Central School and entry is $12 at the door.
Jennifer Lowe-Anker and Conrad Anker will hold a special presentation about the life of the late Alex Lowe on Saturday evening at Keene Central School. Jenni’s new book Forget Me Not tells a complex and candid story of how three people’s lives became intertwined to a degree that none could have foreseen; Jenni and Conrad will tell the story through a slideshow and readings. Forget Me Not will be available for purchase before and after the presentation, and Jenni and Conrad will be signing books afterward. The evening’s presentation will be preceded by raffles and tomfoolery as well as a short award-winning film by Sam Lowe on the Antarctic. The show begins at 7:30pm at Keene Central School and entry is $10 at the door.
On Sunday evening Janet Bergman will present a slideshow of her often-humorous efforts to satiate the climbing obsession. Janet is a New Hampshire climber and world-class Mountain Hardwear athlete who has climbed in Argentina, India, Nepal, Peru and throughout New England. This show begins at 7:30pm and will be held at the KVFD fire hall on Market Street, just down the street from Keene Central School in Keene Valley. Entry is $10 at the door.
For more information visit the Mountainfest 2009 web page.
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