Monthly Archives: January 2013

Snow Travel: A Book for Fellow Lovers of Snowy Terrain

snow travel bookA lot of my recent posts have featured snowy landscapes or advice for winter adventures. Well…because…it’s winter, and winter is my favorite time of the year. But I suppose if you wanted to, you could extend your snowy adventures into the late spring or summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, or you could adopt a “never summer” mentality and go to the Southern Hemisphere each year in June for a second summer. Not bad ideas…but if you’re going to become a snow chaser, you should check out Mike Zawaski’s new book Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow. This new book in the Mountaineers Outdoor Experts Series will tell you all you need to know about how to travel effectively on snowy terrain, including how to choose and use essential gear such as an ice axe and crampons, how to self-arrest when you’re falling down a slippery slope, and how to safely descend snowy terrain. So…if you’re a fellow lover of winter, and you seek out opportunities to adventure outdoors in snowy conditions, this book is one you’ll want to add to your shelf whether you’re likely to encounter a snow-covered slope while summer hiking in the Sierra Nevada or whether you’re out there getting after your winter play, as usual.

Want to know more about Zawaski’s new book?
See my article on the Survival Skills site:
“Review of Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow”
Mike Zawaski’s Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow offers key details about how to move effectively through challenging terrain. Use this resource to gain essential knowledge that you can put into action the next time you confront a snow-covered trail or steep, snowy slope…click here to continue reading

Photo © The Mountaineers Books & Braided River.

Avoid Altitude Illnesses on Colorado’s Fourteeners

quandary 1If you’re planning on hiking any of Colorado’s Fourteeners–peaks above 14,000 feet–this winter or this summer, get in shape first to avoid altitude illnesses including acute mountain sickness (AMS) or the life-threatening conditions of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Physical conditioning and gradual acclimatization can help prevent altitude illnesses at moderate altitudes (8,000 to 14,000) feet, but knowing the symptoms of altitude illnesses is important, too.

Besides having the proper skill, physical conditioning, and gear with you to hike your next Fourteener, I hope these photos of a few Colorado Fourteeners will also help get you inspired.

First…Quandary Peak (14,265 ft.), is pictured above right, and here, my sister and I are smiling on the summit when we hiked the peak in early December:


Torreys Peak (14,275 ft.) and its gorgeous knife-edge Kelso Ridge:

Kelso Ridge 1

Here I am coming across Kelso Ridge:

Kelso Ridge Hike 3

Mt. Evans (14,265)–a portion near the summit called The Aprons:

mt evans aprons

Mount of the Holy Cross (14,009)–just after I skied off of the ridge in late May one year:

holy cross

Mt. Elbert (14,439)–pictured in the early morning before a spring ski from the summit:

mt elbert

Get going…get outside…and enjoy your next Fourteener hike, ski, or climb!

Want to know more about altitude illnesses, symptoms, and prevention?
Read my article on the Survival Skills site:
“Recognize and Prevent High Altitude Illnesses”
If you’re planning to hike or travel at a high altitude, you can do several things to help yourself prepare and acclimatize to this new environment. Acclimatizing to a high altitude includes physical conditioning and a gradual progression from lower to higher terrain…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Glaciers, Crevasses, Seracs and a Big Fat Bergschrund

glaciersSome of my most memorable hiking, climbing, and skiing memories come from the times I’ve either been on or near glaciers. Glaciers aren’t inherently dangerous…but they’re in a continuous state of flux as the ice that forms them moves across the land beneath. So…glacier travel can pose a number of different challenges from hiking in snow-covered terrain. I just posted an article on the Survival Skills site titled “Survive Glacier Hiking Hazards,” in which I discuss specific glacier terrain challenges including crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds.

I’ve encountered glaciated terrain in the Alps, in New Zealand, and in Antarctica. Here are a few photos that capture the terrain characteristics you’ll likely encounter if you’re hiking, skiing, or climbing in a glaciated area.



The above crevasses are on the glacier surrounding Mount Aspiring in New Zealand, which I climbed with two friends a few years ago. On our ascent, I took photos of another nearby peak and alpine route called The Rolling Pin, which is also crevassed:

crevasses 2

Seracs, or ice cliffs…these seracs are on the Glacier d’Argentiere near Chamonix, France. My friend Andy and I were climbing nearby when I took this photo.


Below, Andy is organizing his gear in one of our bivouacs above the Glacier du Tour, also near Chamomix, France. I love the puzzle of seracs behind him in this photo…we were forced to bivouac that night because it took us too long on our supposed short cut through the seracs, and we missed the last lift down that eve.

seracs 2

And…my favorite photo of the big fat summer bergschrund near the top of the Grand Montets lift, also near Chamoinx, France:


The bergschrund above sent me, my sister, and her two friends back down to the valley for beers. We had planned on going for a cruisy glacier hike that day, but the width of this bergschrund required more skill and gear than what we had with us. Luckily, we were in the Alps, and cold drinks were only minutes away…

Want to know more about crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds?
Read my article on the Survival Skills site:
“Survive Glacier Hiking Hazards”
If you like to hike surrounded by the beauty of snow and ice, you’re not alone. Glacier hiking is a popular activity that can put people in touch with an awe-inspiring landscape. However, hiking on or near a glacier poses a few dangers different from hiking in a snow- or ice-covered landscape that is not glaciated…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Winter Survival Camps and Courses

pit1Several organizations here in the Vail Valley have partnered to offer a community avalanche awareness series. Each month, for four months, different members from the community are speaking on avalanche-related topics such as gear, terrain, weather, and rescue. While these workshops are helpful and informative, taking an avalanche class, such as a Level I or Level II Avalanche course, can be incredibly informative and more in-depth than a workshop or lecture series.

What to expect from a Level I Avalanche Course? I took my course at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Edwards, Colorado. About 15 people were in the class, and it was taught by avalanche gurus including ski patrollers, avalanche forecasters, and local terrain experts. We read material, watch videos, listened to lectures, and discussed scenarios in several evening class.

We also attended two full outdoor days practicing skills such as digging pits to analyze the snowpack (above right and below):


We also practiced using essential avalanche gear, including beacons, shovels, and probes. Our instructor buried beacons, and we searched in teams.


Finally, we learned how to use probes to pinpoint the location of an avalanche victim:


Avalanche knowledge is only one aspect of surviving difficult winter conditions, and many other opportunities to learn more winter survival skills abound. For a list and descriptions of additional winter survival skills camps and courses, see the article I recently wrote on the Survival Skills website:

“Winter Survival Camps and Courses”
Many educational opportunities exist for those wanting to improve their winter survival skills. If you hike or snowshoe in the winter, skills such as backcountry winter camping, avalanche safety, and whiteout navigation can help ease worries when you’re in the outdoors. Here are a few schools, courses, programs, and camps that can help boost your knowledge and increase your enjoyment of upcoming winter adventures…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Essential Avalanche Gear: Beacon, Shovel, and Probe

The three items of essential avalanche gear–a beacon, a shovel, and a probe–are so important, and all three should always be carried together, by every member of a group. In fact, a person might as well say the three as one word: beaconshovelprobe. Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, and anyone else traveling in snowy, mountainous terrain needs to be aware of avalanche danger and become skilled in using these three items:

Essential Avalanche Gear Item #1: Beacon

avalanche beacon

An avalanche beacon can help searchers locate a person who has been swept away or buried by an avalanche.

Essential Avalanche Gear Item #2: Probe

avalanche probe

An avalanche probe can help fine-tune a buried victim’s location once a beacon has helped searchers narrow down the location.

Essential Avalanche Gear Item #3: Shovel

avalanche shovel

Finally rescuers need to carry a shovel in order to dig out a person who has been buried by an avalanche.

Want to know more about these three pieces of essential avalanche survival gear?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Essential Avalanche Survival Gear”
If you’re out hiking or snowshoeing in terrain that poses the threat of an avalanche, plan to carry three pieces of essential avalanche gear with you: a beacon, a shovel, and a probe. An avalanche can occur in hilly or mountainous terrain when snow suddenly cascades down a slope…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.