Snow Advanced Course-Washington
PCT Thru-Hiker-Only (PTO): Harts Pass to Monument 78, 3-day
Section One: General Info
The Problem: The early season North Cascades usually still have snow covering the Pacific Crest Trail, if not entirely, than at least with frequent, large fields that can be miles long and very steep. To follow a buried trail you can not see is one thing, but to do so on very steep and dangerous slopes is quite another. If you don’t have training and experience walking on snow on terrain this steep, you’re going to have to turn around and wait several weeks for it to melt before you can start your dream hikes.
The Solution: We are able and willing to come train south-bound (SoBo) PCT thru hikers right on the trail when and where you most need to know what you’re doing, during your first three days from Harts Pass up to Monument 78 at the Canadian border! The rest of your incredible journey is yours to enjoy in confidence knowing that you can recognize risky or hazardous areas ahead, how to proceed safely and wisely, and if a stumble happens, how to self-arrest before getting hurt.
Step One – fill out the Course Application form online and write in the course date that will work with your expected sorth-bound schedule! After reviewing your application, we will sign you up for that date and let you know by email that you are registration can proceed. Next…
Step Two – Once you secure your course attendance by sending in your non-refundable deposit of $200 sixty days before your course date, your name will be included on your course’s Student Roster and pre-course instructional group emailings begin.
Step Three – Your course registration is not complete until your $300 balance is received 30 days before your course starts.
For more about our Admission Policies, refunds, and discounts, click on the About/Administration tab, above.
Dates for 2017:
Cancelled for 2017! 🙁
$500. (Covers all instruction before and during your skills trip).
Section Two: What to Bring
We suggest that you bring three different types and scales of maps. First, Halfmile’s maps of the section or one equivalent in scale for micro-navigation, second, the Forest Service map of the surrounding area, so you’ll know where all the “bail-out” trails will take you should you need to get out of the mountains fast, and third, bring a State map with you, as well, because you’ll need to know where to go when those bail-out trails end at a highway!
It is our advice that you consider the following:
Typically, the snowpack in the North Cascades starts thawing out around June sometime, maybe earlier, maybe later, depending on the year. Meanwhile, the chance of a late-season, winter storm rolling in and dumping a foot or two of powder snow is still possible, so plan on carrying your winter clothing on this trip. (See the SAC Gear List for details).
One big detail PCT thru hikers do not realize is that snow-hiking forces you to go slower and eat twice as much! I know the idea of carrying more weight, even if it is good food, is tough, but just do it! Pack epic amounts of food when you know you’ll be snow-hiking! Expect to slow down to 1mph and eat every two hours, also. Consider food that is high in fat and oils, too!
In addition to your normal dry-trail gear, you must have the following safety gear:
- medium-weight boots that are waterproof, fit a tall gaiter, have a semi-rigid sole, and a pronounced heel. No lightweight, twist-able, low-topped, non-heeled shoe will be allowed,
- a Black Diamond “Whippet” Self-Arrest Pole instead of an ice axe (Black Diamond Pole),
- a large snow basket on your other hiking pole,
- Kahtoola hiking crampons. Microspikes will not be allowed. Kahtoola Crampons
- creek crossing shoes,
- polarized and UV-A/B protected, face-hugging sun glasses,
- a canister stove, so you can cook inside your tent in bad weather,
- a water filtration plan, so you can filter water from snow-covered sources,
In addition to the above, we strongly encourage you to bring the following:
- at least two sock sets for keeping your feet dry,
- a sufficiently insulated sleeping pad, so you can comfortably sleep on snow,
- a small foam pad, so you can sit on snow,
- a 3-season tent that is designed to take a snow-load (should we get a storm),
- a sleeping bag that will keep you warm in 15-degree temperatures (women especially),
- warm mittens, a knit cap, and down booties!
Leave No Trace principles apply to the dry-trail sections of this course, so expect to carry out toilet paper and moist towelettes in those areas, while over-snow, expect to burn your TP and carry out your wet-wipes.
Section Three: What to Prepare For
You will meet Mountain Education’s Snow Skills Instructor at the Harts Pass campground the night before your trip begins. You will be excited that your PCT thru hike has finally started, but we will take a few minutes to meet everyone in the group and talk about how the next three days will go.
First, somewhere along the line after we first meet, there will be an equipment inspection to make sure you brought the right gear. Every skill requires the right tools. Without them, you are a danger to yourself and others and may be barred from attending the course. We’re sorry, but this is deadly serious. With them we will be able to teach you how to use them efficiently and competently to maintain your personal and group safety so you can have fun out on steep, springtime Sierra snow.
Secondly, if the weather and conditions allow, we will teach you how to self-arrest should you slip and fall. This will be a quick clinic requiring full waterproof shells, top and bottom, gloves, glasses, gaiters and a sense of humor! The basics of ascending, descending, and traversing steep snow will be taught to you as soon as we start hiking thereafter. If it is decided that is would not be wise or safe to conduct this clinic at this time, it will be taught to you at the next available, safe, and appropriate time during the trip.
Between Harts Pass and M78, we will travel slowly and cautiously making sure we learn and practice exactly what it takes to maintain our balance and traction while monitoring our route to stay on the trail. We will stop often to discuss and point out various aspects of safe, over-snow, wilderness travel and teach specific snow skills to keep you Risk-Aware. The many details we will discuss are:
- How to find and follow a trail buried in the snow,
- Safe and Efficient Route Selection, independent of the trail,
- How to find “Signs of Man” in the woods to know where the trail is located,
- Personal Safety & Enjoyment = Wilderness Awareness,
How to walk on snow without slipping, falling, postholing, or even getting wet*,
- Ascent, Descent, and Traverse skills on steep snow*,
- Self-Arrest, Glissading, Boot-Skiing, and Heel-Plunge techniques*,
- How to find and get water from a lake or creek without falling in,
- Where and how to hike and camp on snow and still stay warm and dry,
- Topographical Navigation on volcanic, magnetic surfaces without a compass,
- Hypothermia, Frostbite, Exposure, Dehydration, Altitude Sickness, Trail Trauma/Illness, etc
- How to use Hiking-Crampons or Microspikes and a Whippet Self-Arrest Pole*,
- Avalanche Awareness and Avoidance,
- How to make wise wilderness travel decisions in the middle of nowhere,
- Maintain the Rules of the Trail, and
- Emergency Communications, Search & Rescue, and Wilderness Medicine.
* You will not be allowed to attend this course nor learn these skills without the required equipment as detailed here and in the Snow Advanced Gear List.
Section Four: Course Itinerary
Remember, we move over-snow slowly to avoid injury and spend time teaching what you need to know and do. This may be a big change from the daily mileage you thought you could do! Believe us, do not go fast through the steep and snow-covered Cascades! It is too beautiful and dangerous a place to be hasty. Pick up your speed again whenever on dry-trail! And keep an eye on your schedule so you get through the Sierra before mid-November (to avoid getting caught on-trail when the new powder snow arrives!)
At the beginning of this day, somewhere along the line after we first meet, there will be an equipment inspection to make sure you brought the right gear. Every skill requires the right tools. Without them, you are a danger to yourself and others and may be barred from attending the course. With them we will be able to teach you how to use them efficiently and competently to maintain your personal and group safety so you can have fun out on steep, springtime snow.
After the gear check, if the weather and conditions allow, we will teach you how to self-arrest should you slip and fall. This will be a quick clinic requiring full waterproof shells, top and bottom, gloves, glasses, gaiters and a sense of humor! The basics of ascending, descending, and traversing steep snow will be taught to you as soon as we start hiking thereafter. If it is decided that is would not be wise or safe to conduct this clinic at this time, it will be taught to you at the next available, safe, and appropriate time during the trip.
We start out north-bound from Harts pass by following the road toward the Slate Peak Lookout, but quickly veer off and continue contouring along the west side of the ridge on steep, snow-covered slopes past Slate Peak and Buffalo Pass to Windy Pass where we cross to the east side of Tamarack Peak and descent on a steep traverse to Foggy Pass, 7.5 miles into our adventure. It is common for there to be lots of blown-down trees and old avalanche debris hindering our progress through this area, but we’ll learn how to select safe routes, stay balanced at all times, and practice how to not slip and fall, even if postholing.
Between Foggy and Jim Passes we cross back to the west side briefly, but remain on steep, heavily forested snow slopes, so the going is slow and cautious. At Jim Pass we begin an east side and sometimes exposed contour of Jim Peak across old avalanche paths until we get to the north side crossing of Shaw Creek. 10 miles.
Leaving our snowy creekside campsite, we continue about 4 miles along the east side of the ridge in the trees to a northern creek drainage which we follow steeply down through the dense trees to broad, Holman Pass. At this point, we begin a sometimes steep ascending traverse for a few miles along the east sidewall of Canyon Creek to Rock Pass. This section can be a challenge to follow the trail, but with the assistance of a good GPS, we cross a couple of creeks and traverse some steep hillside, before we reach the pass.
The short span of east facing Powder Mtn between Rock and Woody Passes can be an avalanche path, so here we learn how to identify these and select safe routes around them. 2.2 summer miles after we leave Rock Pass, we arrive at Woody Pass to begin a 2.5 mile flat traverse across west facing slopes below Three Fools Peak to our night near Mountain Home Camp. 11.5 miles.
No matter which way you go, north or south-bound, the closer you get to Canada, the more excited you get! Today, we follow the famous Lakeview ridgeline north to the Devils Stairway descent down to Hopkins Lake, go through Hopkins Pass, cut a flat traverse on a west facing canyon wall below Blizzard Peak over to Castle Pass, then make our final, descending, 4-mile approach to Monument 78 in the Castle Creek drainage. 9 miles.
Days 4, 5, and 6 reverse direction back to Harts pass. We may travel together or separately as our group chooses, but to the Canadian border, you have seen some difficult and challenging snow-covered topography, you’ve done very well, and you can finally begin your SoBo PCT thru hike to Mexico very knowledgeable of and experienced in steep snow skills!
Rules of the Trail:
- Everyone stays within talking distance from each other, whether snow-hiking or camping,
- Everyone pays attention to and helps meet each others needs all the time,
- No one goes anywhere by themselves without telling their Course Instructor,
- Willful disobedience of or insubordination to the directives of the Course Instructor will be grounds for expulsion from the Course,
- Team Communication and Safety are Paramount.
- A GPS unit is priceless for below-timberline navigation over snow. We bring and use them constantly. If you can, bring one!