Heading into the high Sierra at the end of May I knew that I was going to be in for some cold, wet, snowy conditions, here are the three things that I found most useful:
1. Kahtoola Microspikes
Weight: 13.6 oz
On icy terrain my Kahtoola microspikes were a godsend. They allowed me to dance up and down the icy crust of the snowfields of the high Sierra while those without would timidly slip and slide down the slopes. 13.6 ounces may feel like a lot of extra weight, but they are definitely worth it. If they are sized correctly for your boots they are fairly easy to slip on (even with gloved hands) and they stay on your feet even when you are moving at weird angles and on strange slopes. I did occasionally fumble with getting them lined up correctly on my boots and had to sit down to put them on (not always the most convenient when you decide you need to use them, but all in all I’ve been very happy with my microspikes. I own two pair of full crampons and I would say the major disadvantage of the microspikes relative to the crampons is that you can’t really kick steps with the microspikes. The advantage of the microspikes is that they are lighter weight and easier to put on and take off.
2. Hanz Waterproof Calf-Length Socks
Weight: 3.2 ounces?
I used my waterproof socks for three purposes: 1. To keep my feet dry for the many many stream/creek crossings in the Sierra, 2. To keep my feet warm when the temps were below freezing and I was crossing creeks or walking through drifts of snow, and 3. Instead of winter gaitors to protect my feet and lower legs from the snow while postholing like mad going across snowfields in the late afternoon. Since most thru-hikers are hiking in highly ventilated, poorly insulated sneakers or trail shoes, the insulating properties of the waterproof socks helped keep my toes happy in the icy conditions of the high Sierra. The liner that comes with these socks was really nice as well… Washing them out periodically to keep the stench down is a good idea.
3. Guthook’s hiking guides phone app
With 3+ feet of snow obscuring the trail in places route finding in the high Sierra can be a real challenge. Having an app that used my phone’s GPS and showed me both where I was and where the trail was on a topo map was incredibly useful. I still carry paper maps and a compass, but as long as my phone is working and my battery is charged, I turn to Guthook’s app when I’m trying to figure out where the trail is!
* snowfields cause interesting and sometimes unexpected sunburn problems, like sunburn on the underside of your nose, and weird sunburns from the light reflected off of my metal earrings.
* rock hopping across streams in the early morning can be dangerous… The rocks were often coated with black ice even when the water was flowing and there was no snow in sight. Frost on on the log bridges can also be slick.
* I carried an ice axe through the high Sierra, but typically preferred to use my trekking poles as I traversed the snow fields.