Snow

Snow can be a blessing in wilderness travel. Many peaks are best climbed early in the season because talus, brush, and logging slash are covered by consolidated snow, and snow bridges provide an easy way over streams.

There are hazards, however. Streams will melt the underside of a snow bridge until it can no longer support your weight. You may break through, the result being wet feet or, much worse, being carried under the snow by a swift stream. To guard against a dunking, watch for depressions in the snow and variations in color or texture, and listen for sounds of running water. Water emerging at the foot of a snowfield gives a clue to the existence and perhaps the size of a cavity beneath the snow. Probe thin spots with your ice axe.

The snow next to logs and boulders often covers holes and soft spots, caused when the snow melts partially away from the wood and the rock. Probe or avoid likely trouble spots, and step wide off logs and rocks. As spring merges into summer, the best route along a valley floor may be somewhat erratic, taking advantage of each remaining snow patch for the few steps of easy walking it provides.

The techniques of snow travel are the same whether the snow lies high in the mountains or deep in the woods. On steep slopes, you may need safeguards such as an ice axe, a rope, or crampons. With experience, you'll recognize both the dangers and the advantages of snow and learn to use the medium to make wilderness travel easier and more enjoyable.

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