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More Training Info > Outdoor Experience

Outdoor Experience:
Education You Can’t Get From Books

I’d like to thank my Basic Climbing mentor students of 2003, including B. Johnson, Seattle Mountaineers Basic Student, who shared with me some of his lessons from a recent snow field trip. I also want to thank K. Stafford, a WebTrainer client, who provided a few tips of her own along these same lines. It gave me the idea to keep sharing with alpinists across the country all the useful tips passed on from one experienced climber to another, tips you usually have to learn the hard way – through much suffering on your own.

  1. SUNSCREEN -- Repeatedly slather your hands, neck, ears, tip of the nose, and sides of the face with sunblock whenever you are going to be on snow and especially ice for any length of time. Even if it is cloudy.
  2. GLASSES -- Wear dark glasses with UV ray protection at all times when on snow. Even if it is cloudy. I learned this many years ago while heading up Rainier’s Inner Glacier on an overcast day. The cornea burn I suffered from squinting all day without my glasses felt like sandpaper against my eyeballs for days afterwards.
  3. FOOTWEAR -- Leather boots in spring wet snow can sometimes soak through no matter how much Nikwax you slather on them. Wearing plastic bags on your feet will prevent your socks and feet from getting wet inside soaked leather boots, especially on day two of a weekend outing.
  4. DRY CLOTHES -- Have a complete change of dry clothes waiting for you in the car for the drive home. It only takes one soggy day to learn this.
  5. LIGHT COLORS -- In bright sun on the snow, sunblock 15 is not enough. Nor is 32. Wear glacier glasses, a bandana over your head, neck and ears, Sahara-style, zinc on your nose, and lightweight liner gloves on your hands, with white or light-colored long-sleeved shirt and pants so you do not cook in the snow. Black attracts heat.
  6. SNOW CONDITIONS -- Hard, icy snow at 6 AM can become mushy slush within only 3 hours. Remember that on your ascents, and beat the melt on the way down from glacier climbs if you have snow bridges or crevasses to cross.
  7. ATTACH YOUR WATER -- If you have an empty water bottle and a full one, the one you lose will be the full one. Secure your caps to the bottles, and attach them with a carabiner so you don’t lose precious liquid.
  8. PROPERTIES OF SNOW -- Filling an empty water bottle with snow means you'll have a water bottle full of snow 2 hours later (it simply won't melt). Add snow only when you have over half a bottle of liquid. Conversely, snow can “burn” over a stove; when melting snow for drinking water, be sure you have some water in the base of the pot.
  9. LOST GOGGLES -- If you lose or forget your glacier goggles, use a strip of duct tape or cardboard and cut narrow slits for your eyes. Your field of vision might be reduced temporarily, but you’ll save your permanent vision.
  10. ALTITUDE TIPS -- If you travel over 8,000 feet, learn 1) the rest step and 2) pressure breathing. The rest step involves locking out the bottom leg and letting your skeleton hold the weight of the body, rather than the muscles. Rest stepping involves a slow, steady pace rather than speeding forward for 20 steps and then pausing to catch your breath. Glacier travel is a “tortoise’s” dream. Pressure breathing involves pursing your lips and exhaling quite forcefully. This helps with gas exchange at altitude. Anytime you get a little nauseous, shift into pressure breathing, get a sip of water, and it’s likely you’ll feel much improved.
  11. HEAT -- Even if you have enough water and you drink frequently to replenish electrolytes, remember that heat saps strength. Watch after your climbing partners and make sure you’re all taking care of each other.
  12. FOOD -- Snack before you’re starving, and keep taking regular breaks to snack just as you do to sip some water. Take foods you enjoy and that are tasty so you’ll want to stop more often. Take foods that are easy to eat; frozen powerbars won’t be palatable to anyone.
  13. TURN AROUND TIMES -- Always be prepared to stop the hike. Obey your turn around time – it’s there for a reason.


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