Snow Advanced Course-W
PCT Thru-Hiker-Specific: Harts Pass to Monument 78

Full Course Description

Section One: General Info

This SAC snow skills course is for current-year PCT thru hikers who didn’t get their snow skills training before they left home to start their south-bound thru hikes at Harts Pass in northern Washington. So, now, you can get it right at the start to remain safe and find your way when the trail is buried under steep snow.
Plan your thru hike normally.
Select one of our SAC-W courses as your start date.
Fill out a Course Application.
We meet you at Harts Pass Trailhead! No passport needed!


Step One – chose a date, then fill out the Course Application form online! After reviewing your application, we will sign you up for the course of your choice, if there is still room, and let you know by email. Next…

Step Two – Fill out and email back the following information:

  • Medical Questionnaire
  • Student Consent Form

Final course admission will be emailed after we review this information.

Step Three – A non-refundable Deposit of $150 must be received 60 days before your course date to confirm your enrollment. The balance of $250 must be sent to Mountain Education, Inc. 30 days before your course starts.

More about our Admission Policies, click on the About/Administration tab.


$400. (Covers all instruction before and during your skills trip).

Section Two: What to Bring

In General:
You guys have spent months or years getting ready for this start. You know in general what to bring. We ask you to consider the following changes or additions to your packs:

PCT strip maps like Halfmile’s work well for micro-navigation, but include the local Forest Service and State maps to show you bail-out routes in case you need to get out of the woods fast.
PCT Maps

It is our experience and opinion that it is not wise to bring your maps or anything else vital to your health and safety in an electronic app. within your cell phone. Wet and cold conditions can cause batteries to fail just when you need them.

Do not bring black and white maps or photo-copies of topos as we will teach you how to recognize the color-referenced creeks, lakes and treelines which will aid in your navigation, especially over-snow.

The chance of a late-season, winter storm rolling in and dumping a foot or two of powder snow is fairly great, even in June, so plan on carrying your winter clothing until the thaw starts and the nights are no longer below freezing. (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 makes you twice as hungry! We know the idea of carrying more weight, even if it is good food, is tough, but just do it! Pack “epic” amounts of food while you are still snow-hiking! Expect to slow down to 1mph and want to eat every two hours.  (You may not be very hungry the first few days, because the body will consume its reserves, first, but after about 4 days to a week, you will start wanting to eat everything in sight!) Good decisions are made when the brain is well-fed! Consider food that is high in fat and oils, too!

Bring a resupply bucket to be left on Harts Pass for your food and gear south of Harts (to be picked up on your way back).

Listed below are wise gear choices for snow-hiking in mountainous terrain. We realize that it doesn’t add up to the lightest pack, but makes for a safer hike! Please consider the following:

  • a Black Diamond “Whippet” Self-Arrest Pole instead of an ice axe (Black Diamond Pole),
  • a large snow basket on your other hiking pole,
  • 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,
  • footwear that is waterproof, fits a tall gaiter, has a semi-rigid sole with heel,
  • Kahtoola hiking crampons, Kahtoola Crampons
  • at least three sock sets for drying out after wet creek crossings,
  • a sufficiently insulated sleeping pad, so you can comfortably sleep on snow,
  • bear canister (as needed),
  • a GPS unit for below-timberline navigation,
  • a small foam pad, so you can sit on snow,
  • polarized and UV-A/B protected, face-hugging sun glasses,
  • 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.

Mountain Education has a limited supply of gear it can rent to help you out. Please see our Gear Rentals.

Section Three: What to Prepare For

Course Instruction:
We will meet you on Harts Pass the night before your course starts. If the road is not open to the public yet, plan on camping at the pass on snow. Mountain Education will teach you snow-hiking skills as you hike north to Monument 78. In order to do this, we stop often to discuss, demonstrate, and practice. Since it takes time to learn things right the first time, we progress slowly and safely, showing you how things need to be done. The skills you will learn include:

  • How to find and follow a trail buried in the snow above and below timberline,
  • Below timberline route-finding with a GPS,
  • 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, Self-Belay, 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 an Ice Axe, Hiking-Crampons, 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.

It is unknown how hikers will get to Harts Pass before the road to it opens, usually around July 4th, so expect a dirt road-walk. Contact the Methow Ranger District for the latest info.
Methow Ranger District

Section Four: Course Itinerary

Day-1: Due to the steeply wooded terrain of the Pacific Northwest, where a slip-and-fall on snow easily leads into a tree or rock below, our first day begins with a skills and awareness clinic on ascent, descent, and traverse techniques, to include self-belay and self-arrest skills!

Our often quite exposed route north follows a ridgeline with steep drop-offs on both sides, so we will be aware of where the trail goes, but chose the safest route available toward Buffalo Pass. It is typical for southern and western aspects of mountain sides to melt free of snow before the northern and eastern, so when we’re on the former, we might, even, find dry-trail! On the snowy sides of Tamarack or Jim Peaks, we may have the fun of glissading down these slopes! Our destination for the day is Shaw creek, about 10 miles up from Harts Pass.

Day-2: This day, we start out on the east side of the ridge in the trees and continue a level, then steeply descending traverse to broad Holman Pass. Extensive hiking crampon training and GPS navigation are taught and practiced in this area. From there, we climb up on the west side of Holman Peak leaving treeline as we approach Rock Pass on the southeast arm of steep Powder Mountain. The trail route between Rock and Woody Passes presents considerable hazard to an otherwise simple, summer traverse, so in here we will take our time with crampons on, if needed! Camp for the night will be in the bowl on the south side of Woody Pass (8.75 miles).

Day-3: Maintaining a pretty level, west-side traverse across Three Fools Peak, we finally gain access to Lakeview Ridge, then tackle the steep, north-facing, knife-ridged descent to Hopkins Lake and Hopkins Pass. From Hopkins to Castle is a long, western aspect traverse across several avalanche paths and in and out of the trees. Our final traversing descent to Monument 78 skirts more avalanche paths down Route Creek on the north-western aspect of Mt. Winthrop. We will camp on the U.S. side of the Monument for the night.

Rules of the Trail:

Wilderness travel is exhilarating and beautiful, but can be hazardous. Therefore, each student must adhere to the following for individual and group safety concerns:

  • No unapproved fires.
  • No unapproved wandering.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and why whenever you leave (bathroom, water collection, etc.).
  • When traveling, everyone stays together and along a specifically designated route with your Instructors in front and/or in back of your group.
  • For your individual safety and that of your group, conduct yourself as directed by your  Instructor. Willful disrespect or insubordination to direction will result in immediate expulsion from the Course.
  • If any student is in need of assistance, say they are just too tired, need to adjust a pack or shoe, or get injured, it is everyone’s responsibility to lend a helping hand and/or notify the Instructor.

Instructor’s Notes:

  • If you can’t find a “Whippet” self-arrest pole, you may substitute an ice axe.
  • A GPS unit is priceless for below-timberline navigation over snow. We bring and use them constantly. If you can, bring one!

More Information

Snow Advanced Gear List
Apply Now!


Leave a Reply